The war of words between the administration and the chair of the Assembly budget committee continued on Monday, with allegations that the administration acted without authority in making cuts to a program that provides breast cancer screening and other services to low-income women.
Monday’s hearing featured another skirmish between Budget chair Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Mark Horton, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s director for the Department of Public Health (DPH). At issue were millions in cuts to the Every Woman Counts (EWC) Program. Horton said they had no choice and that Evan’s Committee approved them — which Evans denies.
The dispute is yet another chapter in a larger battle between Evans and the administration, with the budget chair accusing various departments under the governor with misleading tactics. For instance, Evans recently took on the Department of Social Services for what she said were late and confusing guidelines from the Department of Social Services to providers and county administrators of the In-Home Supportive Services program.
EWC is funded through a combination of some federal funds and Prop. 99 tobacco tax funds. The administration has said repeatedly that it needs to make cuts to this and other Prop. 99-funded programs because of declining tobacco sales. During his testimony, Horton pointed out that EWC is “not an entitlement program” and that it did not request general fund money to backfill the program due to the ongoing budget crisis.
“We clearly has not done all we could have done and all we should have done to involve stakeholders in these decisions,” Horton said. But he quickly added, “We feel that we have managed the program appropriately, given the pressures of increased enrollment and decreased resources.”
Horton said DPW would save $16 million by the cutting of new applications to the program and restricting some services—most notably, changing the eligibility age for mammograms from 40 to 50. This later change matches new guidelines issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an announcement that sparked howls of protests from women’s groups and got mixed up in the national healthcare debate, with Republicans arguing that it was part of a larger Obama administration plan to restrict access to care.
But Evans said the administration and DPW made a decision to make cuts, then tried to share the blame with her committee.
“You planned to restrict eligibility, and the legislature said no,” Evans told Horton. She added, “We said come back with another plan. And the next thing we heard, the administration had unilaterally restricted eligibility and closed down enrollment.”
The dispute goes back to last summer, when Evans said that her committee approved $9.3 million to help keep the program running, but declined to take up the administration’s request for authority from the Legislature to change eligibility requirements for the program on an ongoing basis.
This led to a snarky letter exchange between Evans and Horton in December. In a Dec. 16 letter, Horton complained about a press conference in which Evans denounced cuts to the program, saying “your characterization fails to acknowledge the Legislature’s role in the decision.”
In a response two days later, Evans said her committee had no role in that decision.
“It appears that you are confusing submission of a Finance Letter with action by the Conference Committee,” she wrote. This was followed by a short lesson in how a committee works.
Evans has also been hitting the administration on her Budget Blog, where she wrote Tuesday that “The governor’s plan for solving California’s budget crisis is for low-income Californians to die.”
She went on to cite a Stanford study she said showed that decreased screening would lead to more cancers among low-income women, which would lead in turn to higher costs for MediCal, erasing any savings. She also cited figures from the Legislative Analyst’s Office which she said showed that Prop. 99 had taken in $285 million for the current fiscal year but appropriated only $47 million for EWC.
The legislature was made aware of the declining resources last June and the steps the department would need to take to ensure the highest-risk Californians continue to have access to the program,” said Rachel Arrezola, a spokeswoman for the governor. “We continue to be open to working with the legislature on a solution that will cover as many women as possible without negatively impacting the state’s already depleted General Fund as we face another $20 billion deficit this year.”