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First 5 Officials React 'Cautiously' to Ruling

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San Bernardino County operating as if money will be taken

By Chris Levister –

California’s low income children scored a big victory, but Inland county agencies aren’t rolling out the champagne just yet. A Fresno judge has ruled the state of California cannot siphon $1 billion in tobacco taxes from an early childhood development program to pay for other services for low-income children.

"This is a win for California voters and our children," said Scott McGrath a spokesman for the First 5 Commission of San Bernardino County.

But agencies and nonprofit organizations that provide early childhood programs in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are reacting with caution savoring victory pending an appeal.

“Who knows what the appeal process will be,” said McGrath.

“Until there is a final decision made we have to operate cautiously as if the money is gone.”

Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers had proposed using $1 billion from the California Children's Trust Fund to help cover the state's health care budget, but Fresno Superior Court Judge Debra Kazanjian ruled that such a move is illegal under ballot Proposition 10, which imposed a 50 cents-a-pack on cigarettes in 1998.

Of the $1 billion total, First 5 San Bernardino's contribution will be $50 million. First 5 Riverside expects to pay as much as $30 million.

The money, which goes to fund local programs for child care, early education and intervention and health and dental screenings, will be diverted to the state's Medi- Cal program.

First 5 commissions throughout California were required by law to pay $950 million to help balance the state's 2012 budget. The legislation, signed by Brown in March, authorized the state to take about half of each county First 5 commission's fund balance. The commissions had until June 30, 2012, to give the state the money.

The state First 5 Commission also has to kick in $50 million. Medi-Cal is California's version of Medicaid, a government program for low-income families and elderly and handicapped people.

County First 5 commissions – including Riverside, Orange, Madera, Fresno and Merced -- sued the state to stop it from taking the money and putting it in the general fund to pay for government health programs.

Lawmakers left the financing plan out of the budget last summer because of the lawsuit.

The Brown administration is reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to appeal, the governor's finance spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said Monday. Palmer said Gov. Brown supports First 5, but the state needs the $1 billion to provide core health care services to children and close the state's multibillion-dollar budget gap. Brown vetoed the initial budget approved by Democratic lawmakers, citing such "legally questionable maneuvers."

Still, the governor had argued that the move was legal because the state would use Proposition 10 money to pay for ongoing Medi-Cal costs for low-income children up to age 5.

"But that argument is disingenuous in that it was the Legislature that 'chose' to cut funding to existing services instead of taking what might be the unpopular step of raising revenue," Kazanj ian wrote in her ruling issued Nov. 21.

First 5 is a county entity that distributes state tobacco-tax money to early childhood programs, including those for health and child care and education. The money, which began flowing after voters approved Prop. 10 in 1998, must be targeted toward local programs that benefit infants and children who are younger than 6 years old as well as assist pregnant women and parents of young children to quit smoking. The trust fund is administered by local First 5 commissions.

The commissions argued that only voters could approve the state taking funds. Voters have twice rejected state appeals to take Proposition 10 money. The last try was in the 2009 special election, when voters rejected Proposition 1D, a ballot measure to divert Proposition 10 funds to the state.

The Legislative Analyst 's Office has projected that California faces a $13 billion shortfall over the next 18 months.

Agencies and organizations that receive funding include school districts, public health departments and nonprofit education and intervention providers.

First 5 Riverside and First 5 San Bernardino commissions typically get more than $20 million a year. Unlike other public agencies, First 5 commissions are not required to spend all of their money in one year. They use the money to fund multi-year contracts with service providers.

First 5 Riverside commissioners approved more than $16 million in cuts to about 40 funded programs for the 2012 fiscal year. Significant reductions came from money spent on children's health and mental health screenings.

First 5 Riverside Executive Director Harry Freedman said the agency's 2012 budget includes a 26 percent reduction in personnel and operating expenses to avoid layoffs.

First 5 San Bernardino will not cut its funded programs during the 2012 fiscal year, but commissioners have streamlined services and left vacant positions unfilled to save money.

Though budget cutting measures, Inland Empire Health Plan, better known as IEHP, lost a total of almost $1.4 million for two programs, most of which was to be used for Healthy Kids, which provides health coverage to lowincome children who don't qualify for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families.

IEHP is a nonprofit organization that enrolls an estimated 487,000 Inland residents in government health programs.

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+1 # Guest 2011-12-01 19:43
There is only upside from this ruling for those who really want the money to be permanently directed to MediCal because now we can get rid of First 5 completely through a new ballot initiative. If they'd piecemealed it away, we'd be stuck with First 5 for another decade.

The problem with the First 5 law is that the Commissioners guard and EAT from the hen house.

First 5 is dysfunctional and allows the Commissioners to give most of the money to their own agencies. For ALL other agencies in California, this self-dealing is ILLEGAL and for good reason. It's time to kick First 5 to the curb.

For more info, see my Facebook Notes under Ruben Stutter: 25+ articles, 10+ resignations and at least one grand jury can't be wrong. http://[censored].fa cebook.com/note.php? note_id=188253321258 716
+1 # Guest 2011-12-01 19:17
There is just so much to tell you all about First 5 and how little it has reached out to African Americans.

Here's a snippet from my Facebook Notes:

And so about how much went to serving African American kids?

Santa Barbara $ 140 per child x 56 = $ 7,840
Ventura $1,000 per child x 31 = $ 31,000
Orange $ 350 per child x 1066 = $373,100

In other words, only about $410,000 of about $55 million went to serving African American kids.

That is only 74/100 of 1% or 0.74% of the money.

BVN National News Wire