Community leaders discuss Orange County’s safety net

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Orange County community leaders met Tuesday morning to discuss the status of various social services projects and organizations in light of America’s economic crisis at the How Safe is Orange County’s Safety Net? town hall dialog.

“This event is being held to assist service providers, policy makers and the public in understanding how the economic crisis is affecting the safety net in Orange County,” said Kathleen Costello from the Center for Internships & Community Engagement at Cal State Fullerton.

Costello worked with 2-1-1 Orange County, a nonprofit organization that provides an information and referral system to residents for health and human service support, to arrange the dialog.

This event was sponsored by the CSU Chancellor’s office and is one of a series of safety net town hall meetings that will be implemented throughout various CSU campuses through their centers for community engagement, Costello said.

The safety net, which was the theme of the day, refers to organizations that provide necessary health and human services to those who cannot do so on their own.

Through multiple focus groups of safety net service providers, the organizers of the event broke down the discussion into four all encompassing topics: health, hunger, housing and employment, Costello said.

The first panelist to speak was the director of the Neighborhood Housing Service, Glen Hayes, on behalf of the housing focus group.

Hayes told the audience that it will take about three to five years for the employment rates to become normal again and that the county still has another year until foreclosure rates level out.

Many organizations that help people with housing have created models for preventing foreclosures and building self sufficiency, but few have the resources to implement them leaving many families without assistance.

“Holes are beginning to appear in the safety net because of the lack of resources,” Hayes said.

Next to present was Mark Lowry, director of the Orange County Food Bank, to address the hunger portion of the discussion.

In the last year and a half, there has been a 45 percent increase in applicants for food stamps and a doubling of requests for emergency food services, Lowry said, putting added stress on emergency food providers.

“We don’t have enough food to meet the increased needs of the community that cries out for it,” said Lowry.

After Lowry’s presentation on hunger, the discussion moved to employment, headed up by Andrew Munoz, executive director of the Orange County Workforce Investment Board.

Orange County’s unemployment rate has doubled in the past two years to 9.7 percent, Munoz said.

However, these organizations have been capable of handling the influx in customers due to the doubling of their resources from the federal government in accordance with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

But the funds that were allocated by ARRA must be spent by June 2011, and when that time comes, these organizations will have to downsize dramatically leaving a large portion of the population with no employment assistance.

“The holes in our safety net are going to get bigger over the next 12 months,” Munoz said. “The pain is still there. We are still bleeding.”

Sandra Rose from CalOptima closed the panel discussion with an overview of healthcare services in this recession.

A little less than half of the population receives help from the healthcare safety net, but there is still about 15 percent of Orange County residents that are left uninsured, Rose said.

Right now there seems to be a gap in coverage when it comes to people with moderate behavioral problems and single adult males, Rose said.

But, she said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “I can confidently say that there will be, in this community, enhanced healthcare coverage.”

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