Ask any of the religious leaders who comprise Religious Witness with Homeless People, and theyâ€™ll tell you that the San Francisco City Budget is a moral document. Ask any member of the Peopleâ€™s Budget Collaborative, and theyâ€™ll tell you that the Budget is the Cityâ€™s most important annual policy statement. But for the average San Franciscan, the actual budgeting process is abstruse and perhaps a littleâ€¦ comment dit-onâ€¦ gross?
Meetings? Meh. Spreadsheets? Blah. Appropriations and add-backs and funding sources and a whole lexicon of fancy words for horse-trading? Feh, fye, and fooey! San Franciscans may be forgiven for being a little put off by the Byzantia of our municipalityâ€™s fiscal workings. However, there is a very important bottom line for the whole budget process: people.
In this issue, weâ€™re going to try to cut through the swathe of numbers to the life-altering impacts that this budget may have on tens of thousands of San Franciscans. But a basic overview of the budget process is key to understanding the threats to community services, and how one can help make a positive difference.
Step 1: Mayorâ€™s Budget Proposal
In most recent years, there has been a projected deficit, making cuts a necessity. These cuts are made not because programs fail, but because the Mayor perceives there is not enough funding to keep them going. He gives instructions to the Departments early in the year, and they hand him back a commission-approved list of cuts.
Step 2: Budget Hearings
Throughout June, the Board of Supervsiorsâ€™ Budget and Finance Committee analyzes the budgets of the various City departments. It seeks counter-cuts to refund important programs the Mayorâ€™s budget defunds. The hearing process culminates with public comment.
Step 3: Full Board Finalizes Budget
The full Board has the month of July to work out any further changes, and until July 31 to pass the budget. Most probably, the the Board will pass a very close approximation of what it is provided by the Budget and Finance Committee.
The People’s Budget
Politicians do not hold a monopoly on the budget process. For the past several years, a group of organizations representing low-income or otherwise marginalized San Franciscans has been working on ensuring that poor peopleâ€™s interests and vital services be protected. Because people dependent on social services are frequently less politically influential than those better off, social services provided by the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Administration are generally among the areas hardest hit by cuts, when cost-saving measures seem necessary.
Every year, the Peopleâ€™s Budget organizes its constituencies to meet with politicians throughout the budget process, and holds rallies and protests to bring broader attention to the potential effects of cuts to importantâ€”often life-savingâ€”services.
In 2008, the Peopleâ€™s Budget began meeting in Februaryâ€”a fortunate thing, as Mayor Gavin Newsom hit social services hard well before the beginning of the budget process through tens of millions of dollars in mid-year 2007-2008 budget cuts.
The Collaborative includes dozens of organizations, among which are the Grey Panthers, Coleman Advocates for Youthâ€™s Family Budget Coalition, Chinatown Community Development Corporation, the Coalition on Homelessness, Central City SRO Collaborative, St. Anthonyâ€™s Foundation, the Senior Action Network, and Central City Hospitality House.
Other concerned organizations also have an important hand in shaping the budget. This year, Coalition on Homelesnness, SEIU 1021, Religious Witness with Homeless People, the San Francisco Human Services Network, and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition all had important roles in supporting more vulnerable San Franciscanâ€™s interests in the budget process.
Through the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors, as well as through Mayoral add-backs, these organizations were able to see significant restorations ot the 2008-2009 municipal budget.
Through the Board of Supervisorsâ€™ Budget and Finance Committee, members of the Peopleâ€™s Budget, as well as many other concerned citizens, community members, and conscientious politicians, were able to see the following add-backs on June 26 (other programs were also restored, but the following are the most relevant to homeless and marginally housed people):
|Family Rental Subsidies
|TL Health Drop-In
|HIV Prevention Needle Exchange
|Shelter Monitoring Committee Staff
|Hygiene for Shelters
|Caduceus Outreach Services
|SRO Families United Collaborative
We thank to the members of the Budget and Finance Committee for restoring to the community programs which are saving peopleâ€™s lives, and weâ€™re grateful to our fellow community members for helping to make this happen.
However, two major priorities remain unfunded:
- 24-hour drop-in at Tenderloin Health to replace the losses from the McMillan Drop-In Center and Busterâ€™s Place, and
- the funding necessary to keep in the shelter system the 100 slots currently allocated to Ella Hill Hutch.
While the full Board of Supervisors will most likely pass a budget that differs very little from the recommendations made by the Budget and Finance Committee, these recommendations are not set in stone: Thereâ€™s still a significant chance to help see these priorities realized in the budget.
The full Board will review and vote on the budget on July 15 and 22. The process will be open for public comment. Please come to support programs you believe in: In the budget process, itâ€™s survival of the loudest.
If you canâ€™t make it, still be sure to let your supervisor know whatâ€™s important to you through a phone call. If you donâ€™t know who your supervisor is, you can find out through the â€œFind Your Districtâ€ utility at http://www.sfgov.org/site/bdsupvrs_index.asp