Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Children, families pay dire price

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has again chosen our most vulnerable children and families to bear the brunt of two vetoes in the name of fiscal prudence. We believe these actions are not only fiscally wrongheaded, but also meanspirited. Real children and families in our county will be seriously hurt and no money will be saved.

As was detailed by reporter Cynthia Lambert in The Tribune, 221 families were to lose child care for 434 children in our county on Nov. 1 because of the governor’s action (“State budget cuts put local parents in a bind,” Oct. 25). Fortunately, our county’s First 5 Commission has provided funding for three months to assist families with children through age 5.

The veto of state funding for subsidized child care for poor families returning to work from welfare means that these families are faced with the cruel choice of either quitting their jobs (and returning to welfare) in order to care for their children or continuing to work, leaving their children without care.

Parents will not leave their children without care, so the state will incur additional costs as people who were working and paying taxes are forced to again receive cash assistance and stop paying taxes. The fiscal wisdom of this escapes us, not to mention the loss of self-respect for people not working.

In addition to the callousness and fiscal foolishness of this veto, the governor’s office has lied to families by saying there are other child care programs with funding to help now. This is not true in the state and certainly not in our county. All available programs for low income families have waiting lists.

The value of quality child care and early education programs for children’s success in school is well known. Providers in our county have worked hard to establish a quality system of private and public options for families.

This veto cruelly denies access to this system for hundreds of local children who are most in need and it places additional barriers to family self-sufficiency. We do not believe that these consequences reflect the values of our county.

The second veto hurting our children is the elimination of funding that has been in place for 25 years for mental health services for special education students. More than 200 students in our county receive mental health services ranging from therapy to residential placement provided by our county mental health services.

These services address emotional problems interfering with a children’s ability to benefit from school. Local school districts have worked with county mental health to maximize funding which is now undermined by this veto.

Again, the governor’s veto is causing chaos and uncertainty in the lives of children and families. With the loss of funding to county mental health services, schools are left to provide services for which they do not have funding or expertise.

As with the veto of child care, this action makes no financial sense and is already the subject of costly legal challenges. We know what happens when schools cannot serve children with special needs: these children will default to much more costly hospitalization services or the juvenile justice system.

To be clear, the total funding “saved” by these two vetoes is approximately $389 million out of a state budget of $86 billion. This represents a “savings” of .0045 percent. It is ironic that the legislative, judicial and executive agencies of the state received an increase of $1.3 billion, or 72 percent, according to the Department of Finance. We urge the new governor and Legislature to address these two issues in January and restore funding for child care and mental health services for our children.

Lee Collins is the director of the Department of Social Services for San Luis Obispo County, Julian Crocker is the superintendent of schools for San Luis Obispo County, Jeff Hamm is the director of the Health Agency for San Luis Obispo County and Elizabeth “Biz” Steinberg is the CEO of the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo Co. Inc.