By Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown (D-San Bernardino)
How many times have we heard the phrase that “our budget is a reflection of our values; or a society is judged by how it treats its elderly, sick and disabled members?” Well, it’s high time to reflect on our values and to be judged. Until we restore the cuts to our seniors and disabled, we are guilty of abandoning our ethical principles to care for those who are helpless.
On May 7, 2015, AB 474, a bill that would restore recession-era cuts made to the SSI/SSP program to balance the State’s budget, which helps seniors and disabled adults, was the victim of the California Legislature’s latest budget procedure. The Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6 on Budget Process, Oversight and Program Evaluation placed the bill on its suspense file. This procedure of a bill being placed on an Assembly Budget Subcommittee’s suspense file was unusual to me because normally fiscal bills go to the Appropriations’ suspense file.
By placing AB 474 on a suspense file, relief for seniors and disabled adults being forced to live below the federal poverty level will not happen this year. I have a problem with that; especially, when the state has continuously taken $1.4 billion from the seniors beginning in 2008. For me, this is unacceptable, and I will not be silent and allow this injustice to continue.
The Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) helps 1.3 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities in California pay for housing, food, and other basic living expenses. It is funded with both federal (SSI) and state (SSP) dollars. SSI/SSP provides modest income support to the most impoverished seniors and disabled adults. At a minimum, this allows many to avoid total destitution and homelessness.
In 2007, the Legislature took those funds by cutting the state’s SSP portion for both individuals and couples to the minimum levels allowed by federal law to help close budget shortfalls that emerged as a result of the Great Recession. In addition, we suspended the state cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for SSI/SSP several times prior to 2010-11 and then we totally eliminated it. You would think there would be some urgency to restore those funds; however, due to these cuts, state spending for SSI/SSP dropped from $3.9 billion in 2007-08 to $2.5 billion and has not changed despite the fact that the recession ended several years ago. These devastating cuts to seniors and our disabled should be moved to the top of the California Legislature’s agenda; especially with an anticipated surplus in this years’ budget. We do it for other constituencies but for some reason we have abandon these senior citizens.
AB 474 is the first step to restoring our moral responsibility to care for our most vulnerable citizens and prioritize our seniors and disabled constituents. I for one cannot in good conscience accept a raise we have just been awarded while our seniors and disabled are left without a solution because it will cost too much. I will accept the raise and donate it to those in my district who are helping seniors and disabled adults eat nutritiously; because if I don’t, it’ll be used to fund other state priorities. I will be lobbying my colleagues to do the same in their districts.