The ax is falling on jobs and social services in Santa Clara County’s next fiscal budget.
Struggling to manage a massive deficit, supervisors debated for nearly six hours Aug. 21 before approving the budget 4-1, with Board President Cindy Chavez casting the sole dissenting vote.
The budget gap largely stems from decreased revenues from both the state and federal government, and increased costs from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Challenges for the county include uncertain state and federal funding, officials said, as well as the unknown duration of the pandemic. The budget is expected to resolve about $144 million of the shortfall. County officials assured a reduction in jobs would target empty positions first, before laying people off.
Many of the job cuts are positions that have been vacant since 2019, according to county budget hearing documents.
During a discussion Aug. 19, suggested cuts included eliminating 14 positions from the Department of Child Support Services, expected to save the county $1.3 million, and eliminating more than 20 positions from the Social Services Agency, which would save about another $1.7 million per year.
The budget trims $732,789 from the Department of Family and Children’s Services by eliminating more than a dozen jobs, including social workers.
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg expressed concern about the impact this will have on disadvantaged children, especially those in communities of color.
“In what way does the administration’s proposal allow the county to continue with its mission to promote the wellbeing of children and self sufficiency of families? We cannot just say things and assume that it makes them so,” Ellenberg said. “We cannot pull away from the core responsibility to serve the community’s most vulnerable children.”
The job cuts will translate into longer wait times for people relying on social services.
“With the deletion of (these) vacancies, (this) will likely necessitate a shift in focus from exceeding federal and state mandates to complying with the mandates,” the budget analysis states. “For example, instead of processing benefit application in an average of nine days across all program areas, the goal will be to process applications in the period required by federal law — 30 days for CalFresh applications, and 45 for all other program applications.”
Communications positions in the Social Services Agency also will be cut, which caused further concern for Ellenberg.
“Communication is essential to alerting and connecting residents with services,” Ellenberg said, adding that eliminating communications positions seems counterintuitive during a public health crisis. Ellenberg directed county staff to return to November’s budget discussions with updated guidance on whether these deleted positions should be replaced.
“Being communicative in the COVID-19 crisis is, in my view, priority No. 1,” Ellenberg said.
In addition to jobs, county officials also are slashing operational costs, including document shredding, printing and decreased purchase and maintenance of copy and printing equipment, totaling up to $400,000 in savings per year.
Cuts from the general fund will target Meals on Wheels, requiring other funding sources to step in and provide this service. While the general fund cuts total $731,695 for the program, funding rearrangements will allow the county to actually increase its service by more than 18,000 meals in 2021.
The Social Services Agency will receive an additional $3.8 million to maintain “Immigration and Unmet Civil Legal Needs” contracts with 20 community-based organizations relating to providing immigration and other legal services. Funding of $724,215 is also allocated to the expansion of respite care services and congregate meal sites.
Chavez said she voted against the budget because there were too many differences in opinion and too many important jobs were being cut.
“I’m concerned about how the changes we’re making in our budget are impacting our COVID-19 fight and other emergencies,” Chavez said. “The concerns I have are deep and really relate to the long term health and vitality of the county as a whole.”