Calif. Budget Woes Spread Beyond Sacramento

While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California lawmakers battle over the budget, many people are getting caught in the crossfire. The absence of a state budget is hurting nursing homes, colleges and health care clinics.

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Because of the budget fight in California, the state is not writing checks for things like education and health care. And thousands of people across California are feeling the impact, as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: It's the second week of school at the Northridge campus of California State University. Outside, students stroll across the sunny lawns on the way to class. Inside, it's a little more tense, as lines of students queue up - financial aid applications in hand - to negotiate how they're going to pay for their education.

A lot of Northridge students are the first in their families to go to college. Others are returning to learn skills that will make them valuable in a tight job market. Many depend on Cal Grants, the state aid program that covers books and tuition. But the budget fight means those funds haven't been released yet.

Ms. LINDA BRIGNONE(ph) (Associate Director, Financial Aid and Scholarship; California State University): That's the reason why we've decided to use our institutional funds to award them their money, so that we don't have them waiting.

BATES: Linda Brignone is associate director of Financial Aid and Scholarships. She says the school has successfully managed to loan money to students this semester. But if the standoff continues into January...

Ms. BRIGNONE: It would put us in a big crunch because we are basically covering the money for the state.

BATES: Meanwhile, Brignone says, Cal Grant students here can still attend classes, buy books and pay lab fees because the university is providing money that the state isn't.

Ms. BRIGNONE: We're trying to make it as invisible to them as possible. But let's see how this goes.

Unidentified Woman: ...Okay. What do you need?

BATES: In Northern California at Miner's Family Health, the concern is staying open. This is a rural community health center in Grass Valley, an hour from the state capital.

While legislators argue in Sacramento and the budget remains unsettled, Dr. Heather Lucas Ross faces a flood of patient requests she can't accommodate.

Dr. HEATHER LUCAS-ROSS (Family Practice Physician, Miner's Family Health Center): We don't have the funds right now to hire a new provider. So we probably have several-month waiting lists for new patients. We have, I think, approximately 120 new patient applications or more, and they're all having to wait because we can't fit them in anywhere.

BATES: This clinic is a safety net of last resort for people like Sheri Scott(ph), who works at the clinic and is also a patient there. Scott knows firsthand how much people depend on Medi-Cal.

Ms. SHERI SCOTT: It's a concern, because without Medi-Cal, I don't have health coverage at all.

BATES: Like Cal State Northridge, Miner's Family Health has dipped into its own slim funds to keep open and continue to service its patients. Physician's assistant Stephen Starr(ph) says the staff had no idea they'd be doing it for so long.

Mr. STEPHEN STARR (Physician's Assitant, Miner's Family Health Center): I think it's becoming progressively more stressful wondering, are we going to have a facility and clinic open in a month from now.

BATES: Even when the budget is finally resolved, Starr believes it'll be too late to help many of the smaller struggling clinics that couldn't wait to be reimbursed.

Mr. STARR: It's not like, oh, gee, we now have money. We're just going to reopen. Once you've closed down, you've closed down. And a lot of those places may not be able to reopen again.

BATES: And that will spark another crisis for a state that seems to have more than its share of them.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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