Last month, I took a trip to Sacramento that wasn't easy for me. At my age, my body doesn't respond as well to travel as it used to. But I suffered the discomfort gladly.
As a member of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, I wanted to make my voice heard in the face of statewide budget cuts that will decimate services essential to seniors like me. I went, even though the trip was difficult, because I am still able to make the trip. There are hundreds of thousands who rely on the services that are threatened by these cuts who can't leave their homes. I went to be strong for those who cannot do it themselves.
We are facing the worst budget crisis in California history, a fact my decades of experience can verify. Over the years, I have seen a parade of sensationalists use words like "devastating" and "unprecedented." With a budget gap that might top $14 billion, these words are finally merited.
Last month, I was one of more than 1,500 seniors who attended a rally at the Capitol. We gathered to send a message to legislators and to attend committee hearings on the major cuts proposed for In-Home Support Services and Supplemental Security Income. We heard from a series of politicians and officials; the most eloquent speakers, however, held no titles and needed assistance to finish their speeches.
Two suffering from Alzheimer's disease came forward to tell their stories. They spoke of the changes in their lives since their diagnoses and the aid that programs like In-Home Support had provided. These voices are infrequently heard, and even less frequently considered by policy-makers.
The proposed cuts will have a profound effect on California's senior citizens. If the budget passes in its current form, Medi-Cal recipients will no longer have access to services such as dentistry, optometry and psychology. In-Home Support Services will be slashed by $109.4 million, including a loss of $3.5 million for Stanislaus County. Low-income seniors and people with disabilities rely upon these programs to help them maintain an independent lifestyle.
These cuts are a disheartening reflection of the changing values of society. The elimination of programs essential to seniors is evidence of a culture that increasingly marginalizes the elderly and disabled. Gov. Schwarzenegger's budget sends a message that we aren't considered valuable members of society; that we are castoffs, no longer of use. In a state where the over-65 population is expected to triple by the year 2050, this is not a perspective we can afford to support.
But I didn't go to Sacramento to defend only the programs that affect me. I am also incensed to see children lose health care, to see teachers laid off and to see state parks closed. These cuts affect all Californians, and unless something is done we will feel their impact for decades to come. The consequences of the cuts-only budget will be dire and far-reaching. New sources of revenue must be sought if we are to protect those things we hold dear: education, health and safety.
This is a pivotal moment in California's history and we have the opportunity to change its course for the better. Contact your state legislators and ask them to look for new sources of revenue rather than cut programs for those least able to sacrifice and most likely to suffer.
Brinkley is a Modesto resident and vice president of the California Alliance for Retired Americans.