After 18 months of looking for work, Woodland resident James Edwards is down but not out.
As a commercial fisherman, Edwards says it’s difficult to just go find a fishing job, especially in this economy. After cashing out all his savings and exhausting other options, he has been able to scrape by with the help of public assistance programs like unemployment.
“Without that, I’d be homeless,” said Edwards, 48.
Edwards was waiting Friday to find out if he would qualify for unemployment insurance, but with the state of California strapped for cash, county-operated welfare programs are in jeopardy of going out of business.
Yesterday, state controller John Chiang began delaying payments from the state to a variety of agencies that work with average citizens.
Yolo County’s Employment and Social Services Department, which is now serving roughly 25,000 people, will be hit especially hard. The state is delaying a payment of $5 million to the county for at least 30 days, said county spokesperson Beth Gabor.
Most of that money goes to pay county workers in programs like foster care, child protective services, MediCal, mental health services, and CalWORKS, which provides financial unemployment assistance to low-income families, she said. Without the money from the state, Yolo County will have to dip into its own reserves to keep these services running.
“They are asking counties – who are in much more financial distress than in any time in the last 30 years – to pay the state’s bills without paying interest,” said assistant county administrator Pat Leary.
Leary said that if the county uses all its cash on hand and all of its $8 million reserve, it will last for six weeks. At that point the county would have to withdraw money that is invested in the county treasury pool, which generates 6.9 percent in interest.
The loss of those interest payments will cost the county $345,000 every month, and even if the state replenishes the county’s reserve, there is no guarantee that they’ll refund the lost interest.
“We’re the ATM where you don’t have to pay a fee… but there is a cost. It’s not free to us,” she said. “Why are we having to do the dirty work here?”
Leary said the county is looking at what legal options it has since the state is legally required to pay its own bills.
State assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) said the responsibility belongs to Republican legislators and the governor who refuse to cooperate on a budget deal.
“It’s definitely a situation that everyone would like to bring to a resolution, at least on the Democratic side,” she said.
Yamada, who was just elected to the assembly last fall, represented Davis on the Yolo County Board of supervisors for four years and has spent much of her career doing social work. She said her experience makes her very familiar with the on-the-ground effects of the budget impasse.
If the impasse can’t be resolved soon, the county reserve of $8 million will disappear, putting the county in an even more precarious situation due to a sour economy that is jeopardizing next year’s budget.
“It takes years of good property tax growth [to build up a reserve that big], which we don’t have right now,” Leary said.
The budget for this year sucked up half of the available reserves, and county officials are already projecting a $22.5 million budget shortfall for next year. Without the rainy day reserves intact, budgeting for next year will be painful.
“It’s raining now,” Leary said. “It’s pouring.“
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.