Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 | The recession causing turmoil on Wall Street, in Detroit and on Main Streets across America is also severely straining budgets in cities and counties throughout California. That is the conclusion of “Realities of Recession in California,” the report I released this month detailing the impact of the nation’s recession on California’s counties and cities.

The report was based on interviews my staff and I had with officials in 20 cities and all 58 counties, and it puts a local face on the economic strains being felt across California. The detailed analysis includes unemployment figures, home foreclosure rates, budget deficits, and first-hand accounts of the impact of the recession on social services and non-governmental, charitable organizations. The report can be seen here.

Budget deficits and revenue reductions have forced counties and cities to make cuts in many important programs, including public safety programs, Medi-Cal services, mental heath services, meals on wheels, and youth and senior centers.

For example, the city of San Diego has scaled back and canceled some programs, and it expects to lay off employees to address the city’s $43 million projected deficit. San Diego County expects to lose approximately $10 million in property tax revenue due to the depressed housing market and foreclosures and plans cuts in Criminal Justice and Health and Social Services programs.

In addition, the report found that critical infrastructure projects — which could be creating much needed jobs — are stalled due to financing problems at a time when unemployment rates are at their highest level in decades.

The county was poised to seek $300 million lease revenue bond financing last October to redevelop the County’s Operation Center and Annex, but has delayed and downsized the project — costing jobs — because of unfavorable market conditions.

Almost across the board, the report found that non-governmental charitable organizations have been stretched to their limits. San Diego County reports that the local food banks have seen an increased demand of more than 50 percent per month and that the number of people seeking food assistance has swelled to approximately 55,000 per month.

The report paints a detailed picture of the tough conditions and difficult decisions facing our communities, and with this information, I can show Congressional leaders and President-elect Barack Obama what we need in California to get us back on track, create jobs, and turn this economy around as we work together to craft economic recovery legislation.

Based on what I have seen, I will work to include the following provisions in the economic recovery package:

  • Investment to repair and improve existing infrastructure, including roads, bridges, transit and rail;
  • Increased support for federal programs that support energy efficiency in new buildings and upgrades to existing buildings, which would create jobs;
  • Investment in water infrastructure projects, including reclamation, reuse, and groundwater cleanup programs that could not only provide new water supplies, but create jobs;
  • Increased investment in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which awards grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies so they can hire and train law enforcement officers, purchase new crime-fighting technologies, and develop innovative policing strategies;
  • Providing additional Community Development Block Grants, which helps states and local governments to implement plans to address local housing needs and neighborhood stabilization as a result of the foreclosure crisis; and
  • Increasing the percentage of funding the federal government provides to states for the Medicaid program, which provides health care services for low-income individuals.

Making sure we address these critical needs will help put California’s economy back on track and get more Californians back to work.

As a former county supervisor, I know that local officials are on the front lines of this recession, and the information they have provided gives me the information I need to fight for California as I work with my colleagues on a recovery plan.

Barbara Boxer has been a U.S. senator representing California since 1993. You can e-mail her here.

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