To help offset the county’s looming budget woes, its Social Services department is preparing to lay off 128 employees, most of whom run food stamp and welfare programs. All county department heads have proposed budget cuts, necessitated by increased pension costs, more money for fire services, and funds set aside for the Northern Branch Jail project. Social Services — which serves a quarter of the county’s adults and 62 percent of children — will feel the most pain.
As the economy improved, the number of CalFresh — or food stamp — enrollees statewide has declined. So Governor Jerry Brown has proposed to cut state funding by 6 percent, which in the past has been allotted equally to all counties. But Santa Barbara County has seen a 5,400-person jump in food stamp recipients since 2013. About 38,000 people are currently enrolled .
When asked, Social Services Director Dan Nielson explained his CalFresh staffers — 43 are on the chopping block — have actively done more outreach in recent years. A poverty study in 2013 demonstrated Santa Barbara County was significantly behind others in terms of welfare-assistance participation. Santa Barbara now ranks 53rd out of 58 counties, and Social Services deputy director Maria Gardener said she expects the ranking to go up further.
The department will have a better idea of state allotments after Gov. Brown releases his revised budget in May. Until then, Nielson is bracing for the worst. Of the 220 total position reductions — about 100 are currently unfilled — he asked for 44 back. If he gets it, that would translate to roughly a $4 million savings to the county’s general fund. The county supervisors will deliberate further on Friday after all department heads have presented their budget plans.
“The biggest question is why is this the only county with the largest reductions in staff and service levels to constituents,” asked Danny Carrillo, a representative of SEIU 721, which represents 550 of the county’s 4,000 employees.
But even if those layoffs get approved, said county CEO Mona Miyasato, it “doesn’t mean people will not get food stamps. It means our processing will take longer.” But Janet Wolf, 2nd District supervisor, emphasized “the longer the delay, the worse their conditions are.”