LA County Supervisors Approve Downsized Budget: No Department Is Spared From Cuts And Layoffs

A man jogs past a row of telephone booths in front of the LA County Men's Central Jail on May 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Painful program cuts and job losses are on the way in a newly adopted L.A. County budget.

The Board of Supervisors approved a proposal from the county CEO on Monday that slashes more than 3,200 county positions and likely forces hundreds of layoffs this fall.

In a budget revision released last week, CEO Sachi Hamai carved out 8% of funding from county departments across the board to make up for a $935 million tax revenue shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic crisis.

Because law enforcement takes up so much of the budget — roughly 40% of the county's version of a general fund — the Sheriff's Department faces the bulk of reductions. It's slated to lose nearly 1,400 positions and faces more than 300 possible layoffs.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva spoke during the remote budget meeting, arguing that his department was being unfairly targeted and the loss of funding would impact public safety.

"Crime will predictably increase," Villanueva said. "We're not exempt to the laws of gravity. People are going to get hurt with this budget, plain and simple."

But nearly every part of L.A. County's government will feel the cuts. Outside of the Sheriff's Department, some of the largest reductions include:

  • $14.6 million from Child Support Services, possibly resulting in 137 layoffs
  • $49.1 million from the Probation Department
  • Over $22 million from the District Attorney's office, and a combined $26 million from the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender's offices
  • $20.6 million from Children and Family Services (DCFS)
  • $11 million from Public Social Services
  • $29 million from Integrated Correctional Health Services

Also facing cuts are what's known as AB 109 programs, which stem from the California Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 and allow for several classes of non-violent offenders to be supervised at the county level after their release from state prison. These programs, funded through sales tax, will also take a hit under the proposed budget plan. A total of $52.2 million would be cut from places like the Office of Diversion and Reentry, which includes the Mental Health Evaluation (MET) teams that pair clinicians with sheriff's deputies to address calls involving mental health crises.

Why so bleak? The coronavirus pandemic has stalled consumer spending and sent hotel and sales tax revenues plummeting. That means far less money for social services, mental healthcare and criminal justice initiatives. That impact is expected to be even worse than the Great Recession of 2007-08, CEO Hamai noted in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

The county intends to close roughly $350 million of the COVID-19 revenue gap by tapping what it calls "one-time" trust accounts. Deep cuts will still be necessary.

Layoffs will not begin until after October 1, Hamai said, adding that she's "hopeful" the county may be able to ease reductions if state or federal help comes through or the economic picture changes.

That would be reflected in the supplemental budget due in September.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMERS WEIGH IN

Activists who wanted to see a greater investment in alternatives to incarceration say they're deeply disappointed in the spending plan. Many callers during the public comment period implored supervisors to pass the "Care First Budget" proposal developed by the JusticeLA coalition. It shrinks funding for the criminal justice system, diverting the money to youth programs, behavioral health treatment and permanent supportive housing.

"An 8% cut to the sheriff's department is not enough," said one advocate, identified on the call as Jan Williams with Black Lives Matter - L.A. "Slash their budget and use these funds to implement the recommendations of the alternatives to incarceration work group."

Despite funding said working group and committing to reducing the jail population (5,000 L.A. County inmates have been released to prevent the spread of COVID-19), not much of the Care First plan showed up in the CEO's belt-tightening budget. That was one reason Supervisor Janice Hahn cited when she announced she would abstain from voting for the budget.

"Now's the time to put our money where our mouth is," Hahn said. "And yet I don't see a restorative justice budget in front of us today."

It passed 4-0 with all other supervisors voting in favor.

HOMELESSNESS AND MEASURE H

Funding from the landmark sales tax measure that voters passed in 2017 to address the homelessness crisis has taken a nosedive during the pandemic. The county CEO projects a nearly $71 million loss for the fiscal year starting July 1. That shortfall would have a devastating impact on rental subsidies and supportive services aimed at keeping people in housing and hamstring a key part of elected leaders' long-term strategy to get people off the streets.

The county CEO says state funding will make up for $22.6 million of Measure H losses, and she's looking to the federal government for the rest. But help from Washington, D.C. is far from a sure thing.

One small victory for advocates: they succeeded in convincing supervisors to scrap a plan to divert $2.2 million in Measure H dollars to fund a Sheriff's Department outreach program.

Supervisors were required to approve the budget revision by the start of fiscal year 2020-21 on Wednesday.