California is on the verge of transforming how it helps its most vulnerable citizens: the poor, the disabled and the elderly. Their safety net will be severely scaled back.
"The Legislative leaders said that they saved the safety, but the actual details suggest the safety net has been shredded," says Anthony Wright, from Health Access.
Low income children will be among the hardest hit. Welfare To Work moms who keep failing to fulfill job requirements, for instance, used to be able to get cash assistance for just their kids. However, with the proposed cut to CalWorks slated to be over half a billion dollars, the state would completely cut the family off.
"It just seems unconscionable that you could do this at a time with such record high unemployment. How are people supposed to find work? Why should we want to punish them now at a time like this?" says Mike Herald with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Healthy Families also wouldn't be able to insure as many low income kids. While the cut is $124 million, the state loses twice that in federal funding. Child welfare groups estimate about half million kids would be denied health coverage and another 400,000 would be kicked off the program over the next year. Taxpayer groups say the cuts are necessary because California has been far too generous.
"We've had the best welfare programs in America. That's no longer sustainable and I think what we're going to see is a delivery of social services more aligned with the average of other states," says Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Democrats are taking a lot of heat for cutting programs they were elected to protect. Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, acknowledged the cuts are painful for him, but given the financial crisis, he's proud of the fact he save them from complete elimination.
"We did make some cuts, but they weren't nearly as bad as they could have been," says Steinberg."I have the old 'Can I sleep with myself?' test at night…and I can sleep with what I did."
The vote is scheduled for Thursday. Rank and file Democrats have two days to decide if they have the stomach to change California's safety net.
Republicans threaten to kill budget:
Barely a day after the deal to close the state's budget deficit is made, it could unravel. Republicans are threatening to kill it because of a proposal to reduce the prison population by 27,000 inmates.
The governor and the top four lawmakers agreed to cut prison spending, but Schwarzenegger's office came out with specifics Tuesday, including the early release of some inmates.
Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, who helped negotiate the budget deal, says the prisoner release wasn't a part of the discussion.
Elsewhere, budget supporters were hard at work at the capitol Tuesday, lobbying to get the compromise approved.