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Cuts could hurt city health programs for moms, kids

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Thursday September 06, 2001

Unless the Legislature and governor restore health care funds Gov. Gray Davis slashed from the state budget in July, Berkeley will have to cut about $100,000 from its maternal and child health programs. 

“This will have a tremendous impact on our ability to provide services,” said Dr. Poki Namkung, who heads the city’s Health Department. 

The $2.6 million in cuts statewide for maternal and child health programs actually translates into a loss of about $7 million, since the state money leverages federal health dollars. 

Locally, there could be less funding for prenatal visits at Berkeley’s Sixth Street Clinic and “cutting the outreach that brings the community in,” said Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, who is among those working to restore the funding.  

In addition, the budget cuts could affect funding for immunizations, family planning and the Berkeley High Health Clinic, said Fred Madrano, director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department.  

The cuts could also affect the new Black Infant Health program, established specifically to combat the “huge disparity” between the birth weight of African-American and white babies in Berkeley. The program includes a peer prenatal component in which women support each other through their pregnancies and beyond, as well as access to good prenatal care and substance abuse prevention.  

“We take these funds and make the most of them,” Dr. Namkung said. 

Funds spent in prenatal care is good fiscal policy, Aroner noted. “It can save money down the road.”  

The governor, however, had to look at the state budget overall, explained Sandy Harrison of the state Department of Finance. The cuts were necessary to maintain a “prudent General Fund reserve,” Harrison said, pointing out that there remains $66.1 million in the budget dedicated to maternal and child health. 

Aroner said restoration of the $2.6 million tops the agenda of the Women’s Caucus. The Caucus is supporting the bill which would restore the funding, AB1147, authored by Helen Thomson, D-Davis. 

But it’s not clear at this point whether the governor will veto the bill, if approved by the Legislature. Davis’ spokesperson, Roger Salazar, said he did not know where the governor stands on AB1147, but noted that the budget conditions have not changed since the governor vetoed the item earlier. “Where is the money going to come from?” he asked. 

Locally, Health Department officials are watching the matter carefully. “We’re not going to let the state get away with this one,” Madrano said.