On June 25, San Diego County will finalize a spending plan that impacts not only peoples’ lives, but the vitality of our entire community.  On June 18, I sat in the chambers of the county Board of Supervisors as budget deliberations were taking place. I was there to share a simple message: Put people first. County health and social services programs impact all of us, including children, people with disabilities and senior citizens like me.

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Our top priority should be funding the programs that strengthen our neighborhoods, and the workers who make those services happen. But for too many years, the county hasn’t prioritized the needs of the people. Even today, with hundreds of millions of dollars in unreserved funds, the county is dragging its feet when it comes to making life better for working families and our most vulnerable citizens.

I’ve been around for some time. I moved here in 1950 after marrying my husband, when San Diego was bustling with car hops and drive-ins. Together we raised ten beautiful children, and over the years we watched San Diego grow, too.

For decades, I was active in city schools and spent many years as PTA president at Gompers Junior High School. In 1978, I helped start the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, which is still enriching the lives of children today. I worked for many years as a social worker with Maximizing Access to Advance our Communities, helping our neighbors get jobs, pay taxes and find housing.  I was also active in the Urban League, the city’s Human Relations Commission and the Red Cross.  I am very proud of my work helping parents, children and the community.  When we lend a hand to others, all of us benefit—that remains true today.

Now I am 85 years old. I live in the comfort of my own home thanks to the In-Home Supportive Services program, which is funded through the county and reimbursed almost entirely by the state and federal governments.  In-home care costs five times less than nursing homes.

IHSS is one of many county programs that we built together for the benefit of the entire community. From public health to food assistance programs for children, the social safety net touches all of us in one way or another. Someday when you turn 85, you should have the freedom of being cared for in your own home, too.

San Diego County, with hundreds of millions of dollars in budget reserves, can afford to fund the people and programs that build our neighborhoods.  It’s a rare feat in a time when most state and local governments are strapped for cash.  It means that our leaders have plenty of money that they can and should invest in our citizens and families.

It also means that there is plenty of money to fairly compensate the people who help San Diegans survive and thrive. Caregivers make $9.50 an hour and haven’t seen a raise in four years. Providing a 70 cent per hour raise to tens of thousands of San Diego caregivers would generate an estimated $27.1 million dollars in local economic activity, and the county would be reimbursed for almost all of this cost by the state. It’s a win-win for our neighborhoods.

Right now, our county’s leadership is faced with an opportunity to invest in our community.  Making this investment means immediate relief for struggling families, quality care for those who have helped build San Diego and a brighter future for all of us.  We are counting on our elected leaders to put people first.

Marguerite Smith is an 85-year-old care recipient living in Lemon Grove.

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