This story from the LA Times a few days ago does something really unusual. It puts a human face on the "spending" that everyone in government believes is unaffordable:
Cynde Soto dreads the arrival of yet another benefit notice.
Her cash assistance has been cut four times in two years. State medical coverage is getting more expensive and no longer includes dental care or podiatry. And the in-home help she needs to take care of basics has been cut by about 20 minutes a day.
"That doesn’t sound like a lot to people but … I’m a quadriplegic," said the 54-year-old Long Beach resident. "I can’t even scratch my own nose."
Faced with years of recession-driven budget shortfalls, state lawmakers have made deep cuts to health and social services. The reductions, including a round that took effect this month, translate into sizable state savings but are sharply scaling back the safety net for California’s most vulnerable residents: the elderly, the disabled and the poor.
Since mid-2008, more than $3 billion has been sliced from CalWorks, the state’s welfare program for nearly 600,000 families with children, according to an analysis by the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan think tank. Another $3 billion has been cut from Medi-Cal, which provides health coverage to about 7.5 million Californians. And $4.6 billion has been cut from the Supplemental Security Income program, which supports nearly 1.3 million elderly and disabled people with little or no other income.
Programs that help the poor, the elderly and the disabled stay healthy and independent have also been hit, undercutting local, state and federal efforts to keep the needy away from high-cost emergency rooms and institutionalized care.
"You’ve got the most vulnerable people in society getting hit with multiple cuts," said Frank Mecca, who heads the welfare directors association. "The same person gets hit over and over."
Soto is paralyzed from the shoulders down but does not let that keep her from doing advocacy work for people with disabilities at a Los Angeles independent living center. Using her mouth, she can operate a computer trackball and type numbers into a phone with a Popsicle stick. Several times a week, an aide helps her into an electric wheelchair so she can take the train to work.
Most of the $800 she earns a month goes toward work expenses, including paying someone to feed her lunch. She has relied on $723 a month in SSI to cover rent and utilities. In July, the state reduced its portion of the grant for single beneficiaries like Soto to the federal minimum, shaving $15 from her income.
The same month, the state began charging Medi-Cal beneficiaries copayments of $5 for prescriptions, $50 for emergency room visits and up to $200 for hospital stays. Soto has five prescriptions and went to the hospital four times last year. "That can really add up," she said.
But the cuts that worry her most are those to the In-Home Supportive Services program, which is paying for about nine hours of care a day. The two women who have been assisting Soto for more than a decade have told her they will have to look for other jobs if their hours are cut again. Without them, she fears she would have to go into a nursing home.
"Oh, my gosh. That’s no way to live," she said. "I wouldn’t be able to continue working. I would lose my quality of life…. I think I would rather just die."
I’m guessing that’s what the powers that be are hoping too. Or would be if they ever gave a thought to how this sort of thing affect real human beings instead of seeing the whole thing as a numerical abstraction.
This woman works. She is contributing all she’s got. But her whole salary goes toward supporting her job. That this wealthy country, this country where billionaires are making more and more money, where corporations blackmailing the government into destroying the welfare state, where ideologues have persuaded know nothings to do their dirty work for them, that this country would make this woman suffer even more to serve the rich and make a political point is almost more than I can take.
These are the people who are the first in line to be hurt in all this "austerity" –this "tough love." And our leaders are either gleefully enjoying the suffering, throwing up their hands and calling it an act of God, or making excuses about how powerless they are to change anything. Corporations send jobs overseas, rake in huge profits and then complain that they can’t possibly hire Americans until regulations and taxes are slashed even further. Rich people whine about being victimized by insensitive critics who don’t understand that it’s hard out here fo’ a pimp. It is an epic moral failure.
This country has the money to pay for this woman and all people like her to live in dignity. Look at the amount of money we are talking about. It’s less than what the average wealthy person pays in gratuities in a month.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed another "painful budget" with deep cuts to services after losing a bid to win enough Republican votes to extend temporary taxes. Republicans said the taxes were a drag on the struggling state economy.
Among the cuts taking effect this month is an 8% reduction to CalWorks grants for low-income families. A single mother with two children living in Los Angeles County now receives a maximum $638 a month. If the mother has been on the program for more than four years, her portion of the grant will expire Aug. 1, and the family will be left with $516 a month. Previously, adults could receive cash aid for five years.
Oh, and if you happen to be out of work, don’t hold your breath for that Unemployment Insurance extension:
CANTOR: Jim, the most important thing we can do for somebody who’s unemployed is to see if we can get them a job. I mean, that’s what needs to be the focus. For too long in Washington now we’ve been worried about pumping up the stimulus moneys and pumping up unemployment benefits and to a certain extent you have states for which you can get unemployment for almost two years and I think those people on unemployment benefits would rather have a job. So that’s where our focus needs to be.
Keep in mind that Eric Cantor — and apparently everyone else — wants the American public to believe that the more we slash government (also known as that woman’s lifeline) and cut taxes for the wealthy (also known as tribute to our liege lords) the more jobs we will have.
The idea seems to be that the suffering of the old, poor, sick and unemployed will magically lead to a good harvest. Who says the human species hasn’t progressed?