Welfare cuts could burden Barstow charities
State wants to cut $60 million
BARSTOW • San Bernardino County is slated to lose about $60 million in state funding for social services programs under a budget-cutting plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown — a move that could put greater strain on social service organizations in Barstow.
County officials project the reductions would force CalWORKS, a welfare program, to eliminate benefits for 5,001 families and reduce them for 28,556 others, while eliminating 200 staff positions. CalFresh — formerly known as food stamps — would see a reduction of 75 staff positions.
County spokesperson David Wert said the positions would be eliminated because they are supported solely by state funds. It’s possible that the county could shift the workers to other government positions, he said.
The state has cut $3 billion from CalWORKS since 2008, according to the California Budget Project.
In a statement, 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry said he welcomed the additional cuts to the programs because they would encourage people to seek work.
“We should be shrinking the size of government and doing everything we can do encourage those on welfare to become productive members of our society,” Derry said. He added that it was an insult to taxpayers to advertise public benefit programs on the radio because new participants would increase their cost and that such programs do not stimulate the economy.
At Desert Manna Ministries, which houses homeless residents and provides food and other assistance, executive director Sheri Randolph said that even purely administrative cuts had an impact on receiving welfare. Desert Manna used to receive an emergency shelter grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency. But the grant required the group to apply through the county, Randolph said. As the county cut its workforce, they were no longer able to administer the grant.
Despite their differences in rhetoric, Randolph said Desert Manna has enjoyed a productive relationship with both Barstow-area supervisors.
Derry and 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt were in town last week to present checks from their discretionary funds accounts to the nonprofit. Mitzelfelt provided $20,000 for the group to purchase a refrigerated truck, while Derry gave $5,000 for a program that provides free lunches to children when school is shut down for summer break. (The county plans to end the discretionary accounts this year to save money.)
Studies have found that significant numbers of children in the United States are hungry, Randolph said. A USDA study in 2010 found that over 16 million children lived in food insecure households, while another USDA report said about 52 percent of people eligible for CalFresh do not apply for benefits.
“That’s why they’ve been trying to get people to sign up for food stamps, because children can’t learn if they’re hungry,” Randolph said, adding that when needy families spend the money, it helps provide revenue and create jobs at local businesses like grocery stores.
Randolph said she worried that further state cuts would only increase the demand for her organization’s services. Already, she said, the number of people seeking assistance from Desert Manna has doubled since last fall, when the first group of long-term unemployed had their federal unemployment benefits end. About 93,000 more Californians saw their benefits end May 12, when the state stopped receiving federal funding for extended unemployment benefits, according to the state Employment Development Department.
“It’s going to get bad,” Randolph said. “We’re already at almost 50 percent of residents of Barstow receiving some type of assistance right now. If they start slashing that, there’s going to be more people falling off the edge, and that’s going to be more people coming here.”
The budget must be approved by the state Legislature, which is required to pass a budget by June 30. Wert said the county was waiting to see what course of action the state ultimately approved.
“Oftentimes the May revise is more of a political statement than a policy statement,” Wert said.
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