For state workers’ families, the budget cuts get personal

When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger flicked his pen to sign the state budget July 16, he not only confirmed many cuts, but many worrisome troubles for state workers.

State employees are being hit where it hurts by monthly, three-day furloughs which have been implemented since June and will last till the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year. These unpaid days off cut the average workers pay down 14 percent, a fiscal hardship for some.

These are not just paper cuts. They translate into real impacts on real people. Here are accounts of two of those people.

John Krumm, Department of Motor Vehicles, Driver’s Safety Office
John Krumm has worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles in San Francisco for almost ten years. He has been subject to furlough Friday’s and like many Californians, is making changes in his everyday lifestyle.

“I go to work, and home, to work again…you get the idea. I don’t have extra money to do anything else. 60 percent of my paycheck goes toward my rent,” said Krumm, 53.  

He lives in San Francisco, sharing an apartment with a roommate. Even with a roommate, his rent is around $1,000 a month. Because San Franciscan housing is so costly, he said even an apartment in the Tenderloin district—an area known for its homelessness and high crime—would probably cost him the same.

But Krumm has other things to worry about: he has been living with HIV for more than 25 years.

“I’m a member at the food bank (Project Open Hand) because my doctor signed me up to get food to keep me healthy,” said Krumm. “I usually go once a week, on Furlough Fridays.”

Krumm used to go to the food bank about five years ago when his pay check was not enough to keep him healthy. Now that his wages have been cut, he said he’s taking home the same that he used five years back, and so cannot afford healthy food for his condition.
 As a state worker, his medications are taken care of through health insurance. If however, that were to change, Krumm said he would not know how he would pay for his many medications because of his lack of cash.

As if all those worries weren’t enough, he recently received a troubling e-mail from “the people who run the transit tickets,” in the DMV office saying that they might cut off public transportation compensation. He currently takes MUNI—San Francisco’s public transportation system which includes buses, streetcars and trolleys— to work everyday. The usual monthly pass costs $45 which Krumm said he would not be able to afford if the DMV took away their discount program.

“I guess I would have to walk to work everyday then…it would take me about an hour or more,” he said.

Mike Marando, representative for the DMV, said that the discount program is not being eliminated — good news for Krumm. The discount price from the $45 is $33.75 for San Francisco DMV workers, costing $11.25 for a monthly pass.

Thomas Harris, office technician at the Water Resources Control Board
Thomas Harris has been working with the state for almost 30 years now, but because of furlough days off, he can’t even afford new shoes.

Harris’ large 14 shoe size contributes to the problem that he said makes him feel like he’s “living like a bum on the street.”

“I can’t go and search for shoes, size 14 have to be special made,” said Harris. “Clothes are hard for me to get, I can’t afford them. I’m living off of candy bars and water at work.”

The 53-year-old also has medical problems: most of his family members died young due to heart complications and he worries he will be the same. Harris himself has diabetes, high-blood pressure, and even had congested heart failure which caused him to have a two way heart bypass in 1996. He has seven total medication prescriptions, and worries much like Krumm does, that he won’t know what to do if his health insurance will not cover those any longer. His doctor recommended that he start taking daily insulin shots, but Harris said he just can’t bring himself to.

“I’m deathly afraid of needles. But I just can’t do it. I might loose a limb, or I might die, but I just can’t do it,” said Harris.

Harris’ rent is around $1100 per month because he’s getting a break from a friend who is helping him out, he said. He makes about $2400 a month, and had to file for chapter 13 Bankruptcy this past June.

“It’s gotten to that point. I had to file for chapter 13 to keep my car to have a place a stay,” he said.  

He said he needs that car just in case he can no longer pay for rent. He joked that he would “probably make more living on welfare.” 

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