Health Care Advocates Criticize Los Angeles County Supervisors Over Unexpected $300 Million Budget Surplus
Health care advocates on Tuesday criticized the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for reductions in spending for medical services in recent years after supervisors found that the county has an unexpected surplus of more than $300 million for fiscal year 2004-2005, the AP/Fresno Bee reports (AP/Fresno Bee, 9/29). In June, for example, supervisors approved a budget that eliminated $28.6 million for the county Department of Mental Health. Under the budget, the department had to eliminate funds for programs that provide prescription drugs, hospital beds, day treatment and other services for uninsured county residents (California Healthline, 8/10).
However, as a result of several years of "belt-tightening" and the approval of a $15 billion statewide bond in June, the county general fund has almost $872 million left from FY 2003-2004, with a $337 million budget surplus for FY 2004-2005, according to the AP/Bee (AP/Fresno Bee, 9/29). According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the county has a $309 million budget surplus for FY 2004-2005.
Although supervisors voted to use a large amount of the budget surplus for FY 2004-2005 to improve county buildings and other facilities, they also voted to spend $16.2 million to increase wages for county home health workers from $7.50 per hour to $8.10 per hour (Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News, 9/28).
A number of consumer advocacy groups criticized supervisors for alleged "failure to oversee their finances," the AP/Bee reports. Eve Hill -- executive director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights, which has sued the county over proposed reductions in medical services for low-income and disabled residents -- said, "I don't think this was an attempt to be prudent in terms of saving for a rainy day. It is already pouring ... in the health care system."
However, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, "I know there are eyebrows raised when this happens. I wish we could be a little more surgical in our estimates. We've set it up so if there is going to be a variance, it's on the plus side, not the minus side" (AP/Fresno Bee, 9/29).