As many as 530,000 low income senior and disabled residents took a significant hit in their pocketbook when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated more than $190 million in homeowner and renter assistance funding from the state budget. The cuts were made to reduce state spending that has left the state in a financial crisis. Two weeks ago Schwarzenegger announced the state would need a $7 billion loan from the federal government at a time when the economic news throughout the nation is reaching a low not seen since the great depression of the 1930’s.
The cuts will eliminate funds for two little-known programs that provide qualified seniors and disabled residents with cash to pay their mortgages or rent. The Homeowners Assistance Program provides an annual payment of up to $472.62, which is based on the property taxes assessed and paid on their homes.
The Renter Assistance Program provides an annual payment of up to $347.50. All applicants must have an annual income of less than $44, 096.
The cuts came after state officials, in partnerships with community organizations, were in the midst of a major publicity campaign to build public awareness of the 25-year-old programs.
Judy Chu, Chair of the California State Board of Equalization, released a statement on Sept. 25 slamming the governor’s cuts.
“It is absolutely unconscionable for the Governor to slash funds from a program that benefits the most vulnerable members of our society,” she said. EGP News published a story in the July 24 edition on a joint news conference held by Chu’s office and the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) to highlight the program.
Enrique Aranda, director of operations and community services at MAOF, said, “the cuts will have a devastating effect on the least fortunate of society.” He added that staff members who spent many hours conducting community outreach promoting the programs must now inform clients that no funds will be granted this year.
The checks were scheduled to begin to arrive in the mail this month. Instead, the State Franchise Tax Board mailed letters stating that claims could not be honored due to a lack of funds. The claims have not been rejected and will be honored should the funds become available.
Elizabeth Jimenez, director of senior information and assistance services for MAOF, said her office has been overwhelmed this week with clients confused over the letters. Most of her clients do not speak English.
Jimenez said that while the amount granted may appear to be low, it is a significant amount for her clients.
“They are relying on the money to pay bills, medicine and groceries,” she said.
She said that although they are confused, they are not angry.
The statement by Chu was less forgiving.
“They were so hopeful and glad to receive those funds,” she said. “Now the rug is being pulled right out from under them.”