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Placer County grapples with increasing needs of poor

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Health and Human Services programs are balancing fewer resources with increasing demands from the needy in Placer County. Dr. Richard Burton, Health and Human Services Department director, told supervisors Tuesday that the county has forged partnerships with a wide swath of care-givers and agencies – from law enforcement to private business to schools – to continue to provide services. “Those partnerships have allowed us to best-serve the residents of the county to help them maintain self-sufficiency as much as possible,” Burton said. The Health and Human Services caseload for medically indigent adults has risen dramatically from 767 in 2007 to 1,386 this year. The caseload for general relief has risen from 372 to 560 during the same time period. The number of residents on subsidized nutrition programs has jumped from 2,300 to 4,600. “We have seen great growth in those who have lost their insurance and still have their job or who have lost their job and their insurance,” Burton said. County Executive Officer Tom Miller pointed out that the growth in the needy has been centered in cities. Two-thirds of the county’s program services are directed to city residents. Health and Human Services must provide services to all eligible residents whether they live in the unincorporated or incorporated areas of the county. Bekki Riggan, a principal management analyst with the county, outlined state government is grappling with a potential $25.4 billion deficit and has been underfunding counties for health and human services costs. “For Placer County, this translates into roughly $5 million to $6 million per year in unfunded costs that must be borne by the county’s constrained discretionary revenues or that must be re-designed out of service delivery,” Riggan said. Over the past five years, Placer County supervisors have voted to take $14.1 million from the general fund and other sources to close the funding gap for services to the needy. Supervisor Robert Weygandt said he compares the state’s approach in withholding funding to taking all the air out of one tire on a car. The county makes up the difference in savings or cuts elsewhere, he said. “Even though we’re not looking forward to using more money from the general fund, we let 25 percent of the air out of all the tires so it can continue to be driven,” Weygandt said. The discussion Tuesday was part of an ongoing series of budget workshops the Board of Supervisors is holding as it plans for the year ahead.