Here’s what you need to know
- At the Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 25, 2022, the board accepted the Annual Fresno County Crop and Livestock Report for 2021 from the Department of Agriculture. 2021 was a record year, despite the drought: ag products in the county generated well over $8 billion for the first time in history. The top three crops were almonds, grapes, and pistachios.
- Nisei Farmers League President Manuel Cunha was present to say that farmworkers are “essential workers” and that he hoped the offices of the Ag Commissioner would be moved so that employees would not have to “look at those buildings where Japanese-Americans were housed,” referring to the horse barns where ethnic Japanese were forcibly interned during World War II. He said that the structures still stand and are visible from the current Ag Commissioner’s office windows..
- The board received a detailed update from the Department of Social Services Director, Sanja Bugay, regarding funding and administration of the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, which has grown 26% over the last five years. The total program cost is about $650 million and there are currently 19,357 IHSS workers actively providing services in the county, according to Bugay. The workers are paid $16.45 per hour and only 10% are enrolled in the health insurance program. IHSS receives the highest share of the social-services budget at 49%.
- Eight members of the public appeared in person to comment on the IHSS program, testifying to its growing and urgent need in the county.
Chairman Pacheco opened the meeting at 9:30 a.m. Supervisor Magsig introduced the person giving the invocation, Courtney Westfall, as a “full time minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and youth advocate for Fresno County,” though her status as a county employee was unclear. Westfall was an unsuccessful candidate for Fresno City Council in 2022, and per her Facebook page, advocated forced pregnancy.
“God, we just pray to you that your will would be done in the County of Fresno, that we would be a city that comes into covenant with you, just as it is written on our dollar bill: ‘in God we trust,’” she said, adding a wish that the city would be under “your authority.” She continued, “Bring deliverance from homelessness and drug addiction . . . we ask that you would be god over the county of Fresno. In Jesus’ name I pray.”
Westfall stepped away from the podium, and Clerk Seidel led the flag salute. As usual, Seidel read agenda items exceedingly fast, making it difficult to understand what she was saying. The room was full of attendees. Meetings are open to the public and are held at Fresno County Hall of Records, 2281 Tulare Street, Room 301, Fresno, CA 93721. Agendas, minutes, videos, and live-stream can be found here.
Brian Pacheco, 1st District, Chairman
Sal Quintero, 3rd District, Vice-Chairman
Steve Brandau, 2nd District
Buddy Mendes, 4th District
Nathan Magsig, 5th District
Paul Nerland, County Administrative Officer (CAO)
Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel
Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors
Agenda Item #1 The day’s agenda was approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #2 Consent agenda items #19-65 were approved 5-0. These are items considered routine and are grouped together for approval with one vote.
Agenda Item #3 The board re-appointed with a 5-0 vote Supervisor Mendes as member and Magsig as alternate to the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) Board of Directors for 2022-2023. Mendes said he was “willing to do it again,” and Magsig said he was “happy to be Mendes’ wing man.”
Agenda Item #4 The board proclaimed Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 2022 as National Veterans Small Business Week. Two representatives from Fresno County Veterans Services were present to accept the proclamation. “We are happy to take a picture with you,” one of them said, also noting that an event for potential small-business owners would be held Nov. 2 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District. Everyone posed for a group photo.
Agenda Item #5 In a first hearing, the board unanimously approved amendments in the sheriff’s department fee schedule. A second hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29.
Agenda Item #6 The board unanimously accepted the Annual Fresno County Crop and Livestock Report for 2021 from the Department of Agriculture, presented by the Agricultural Commissioner Melissa Cregan. 2021 was a record year, despite the drought: ag products in the county generated well over $8 billion for the first time in history, per Cregan; but the figure does not account for marketing costs, profit, loss, etc.
The top three crops were almonds, grapes, and pistachios. Top countries for exports were Mexico, Japan, and Taiwan. Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, approached the podium, startling Cregan. “You snuck up on me,” she said. “Hard to do at 6’ 4”,” said Jacobsen.
Jacobsen said that the persistent water shortage has continued to be an issue and that the lack of water has “potential for devastation” in the next five to ten years. He noted that farmworkers in 2021 were provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, and vaccination to protect against Covid infection.
Cregan acknowledged the work of the Nisei Farmers League (NFL), though she and others consistently mis-pronounced the name (it is pronounced “nee-say,” not “nee-see”). “Nisei” means “second generation” and refers to American-born offspring of Japanese immigrants to the US. The NFL, though initiated by Nisei Farmers 50 years ago, is now a multi-ethnic grower-advocacy group.
NFL President Manuel Cunha was present to say that farmworkers were “essential workers” and that he hoped the offices of the Ag Commissioner would be moved so that employees would not have to “look at those buildings where Japanese-Americans were housed,” referring to the horse barns where ethnic Japanese were forcibly interned during World War II. He said the structures still stand and are visible from the current Ag Commissioner’s office windows.
Pacheco asked the other board members for comments, and Magsig quipped, “Let the farmers go first,” referring to the two dairy farmers on the board, Mendes and Pacheco. However, Brandau spoke first, thanking Cunha for his “support for the whole industry.” He added thanks to Cunha and Cregan for “making workers ‘aware’ they could get vaccinated.” Brandau has previously expressed opposition to public-health measures requiring vaccinations against highly infectious diseases and seemed to suggest at the Feb. 1, 2022 supervisors meeting that vaccination should be a choice, comparing it to pregnancy.
Magsig said that he wanted people to know how important Fresno was to agriculture in the world. He said that farmers were “the greatest conservationists,” farming with little water and seeing more and more acreage taken out of production. He added that “food is a national security issue.”
Quintero spoke, pronouncing “Nisei” correctly, and noting how as immigrant farmers arrived in the county, they helped each other. He said that Japanese farmers helped Armenian immigrant farmers learn to farm in the central valley. Cregan noted that the cultural exhibits at the Fresno Fair highlight this history.
Mendes said to Cregan that he appreciated her ability to “work with everyone in ag.” He noted that “Manuel does a lot of things that nobody sees,” such as going to D.C. to advocate “for us” as well as work with the Valley Air Board.
Pacheco said, regarding water scarcity, that farmers “have done more with less” and praised Cregan: “It couldn’t be done without you and your staff.” Pacheco acknowledged “all the people in the fields” and thanked farm bureau staff for “making sure our essential farmworkers were vaccinated and had PPE.” Then he said that “if you are going to criticize, don’t do it with your mouth full,” suggesting that water-management advocates are undermining the growing of food.
Agenda Item #7 The supervisors, sitting as the governing board for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Public Authority, received a program update from the Department of Social Services Director Sanja Bugay. There was no action required, so there was no vote. The presentation was complex and dominated the day’s agenda. Bugay gave a detailed report about the program, the administration of which is complex, and judging by the supervisors’ questions to Bugay, confusing.
Bugay explained that the Public Authority (PA), legally separate from the county, is the employer of record for IHSS service providers. Though the PA is the employer for the purposes of employee/employer relations for IHSS providers, the recipient of services is the caregiver’s employer and is responsible to hire, train, supervise, and fire the individual worker. The recipient of services hires the person they prefer, and the PA negotiates wages and benefits and issues paychecks.
People who want services apply to IHSS, Bugay said, to determine eligibility; they pick their own caregiver, whoever they want to hire, or choose from a list provided by IHSS. If they want to hire their mother or another family member, the PA trains her.
IHSS workers care for elderly or disabled people. The IHSS program provides services to eligible recipients to allow them to remain safely in their own homes as an alternative to being institutionalized. Often a family member is hired as an in-home caregiver, as several commenters from the public attested, and as Bugay’s statistics show:
Through August 2022,
- 21,017 active cases received payment
- Average number of hours per recipient was 132 monthly
- 19,357 IHSS providers actively provided services
- An average of 143 hours were worked per provider monthly
- Approximately 73.2% of recipients received services from a family member
Bugay also noted that over the past five years, the number of hours paid to caregivers increased 26%. She discussed provider wages and benefits; the hourly rate as of January 2023 will increase to $16.95 per hour, including an 85-cent health-insurance contribution benefit, an increase of 3% from the $16.45 current wage.
Pacheco asked if all 19,000 workers received the 85-cent benefit. A hesitant “no” was Bugay’s reply. Over 2 million hours were worked in a month, she said. Pacheco said, “So multiply $16.85 by 2 million?” Turning to Magsig, he asked, “Can you do that in your head?”
Bugay noted that only 10% of providers were enrolled in the health-insurance program; 54% of providers receive Medi-Cal coverage. The cost of the benefits is over $2 million per month, which is deposited in a trust account, but neither the county nor the PA determines its administration. Costs are paid to the insurance provider (chosen by SEIU 2015), and they determine eligibility for health benefits. Currently about 10% of IHSS caregivers receive this health insurance. Pacheco asked if “we were paying for everyone, but only 10% get benefits?” Bugay said yes. Pacheco seemed to understand that the administration of the funds was not the county’s responsibility.
Bugay then discussed Maintenance of Effort (MOE) which she said was synonymous with the county’s share of the cost of wages and benefits and which is funded with 1991 realignment funds and was formerly a “straight percentage” but became a flat dollar amount. Changes to MOE after 2017 yielded what is now a fixed dollar amount which grows annually by a fixed 4%, or about $2 million per year and pays for minimum-wage increases, etc. There is a cap on state participation in care-provider wages and benefits, she said.
The total program cost is about $650 million, Bugay said. Magsig interrupted to say that this program was the largest the county participates in, to which Bugay noted that it was, with the exception of the Medi-Cal program. The total figure would not be reflected in the county budget, however, she added, because state and federal dollars are “off-budget.”
Magsig said he raised the point because the MOE was 11 or 12% of the cost—Bugay corrected him: it was 8%. “Concerns I do have,” said Magsig, is that “the state has just announced that it is $7 billion behind” in revenue projections, then said he thought the state “would be behind by $30 billion” by January, but did not say why he thought so. He was worried that the state would not be able to pay its share and would “turn to the county” for payment. Even a 1% difference would amount to “millions of dollars,” he suggested.
Bugay replied that funding for the program, which has existed since the 1980s, was changed in 1991. From 1991-2017, the county’s share of the cost was about 16%. Magsig interjected that in 2015 he thought the program cost about half as much, then he said that the county was the fastest growing, increasing the numbers of care-providers and recipients of the service exponentially—“Correct?” he asked Bugay. Bugay said, no, the county was not growing at a rate different from any other county in the state, though the program itself was the fastest growing one in California. As eligibility for Medicaid and other programs change, so does eligibility for IHSS. Additionally, an aging population has increased participation in the program. It is the fastest-growing program, but it is across the state, Bugay said, which quieted Magsig.
Bugay explained in more detail the statutory state cap on wage contribution as well as MOE history, including the current figure, about $52 million, for IHSS wages and benefits. She discussed funding sources, including realignment funds, which come from sales tax, and one-time sources such as state general fund which compensated for loss of realignment revenue during Covid. IHSS receives the highest share of the social-services budget, 49%, she said. Care of foster children, adoptions, and other services are also funded from this source.
Pacheco asked Bugay, “You said that the MOE is $52 million, realignment is $43 million, but the net county cost is $8 million? Bugay: Yes. Pacheco: “So are you saying the county is putting in $8 million to fund this program?” Bugay: Yes.
Magsig interjected, “So the net county cost comes from discretionary money?” The total of which, Magsig said, is $350 million, to be split among county needs. Bugay replied that the $52 million must be paid, there is no choice about it, and when realignment funds are insufficient, the only option is to fund it with discretionary funds.
Pacheco asked if “we don’t receive the MOE from the state.” “No, that is our cost,” said Bugay. Of the total program cost of $650 million, the county’s cost is $52 million. Of the $52 million, $43 million is funded via realignment (which is considered a local resource), Bugay clarified for Pacheco. Where do we see state and federal contributions, Pacheco wanted to know. These amounts are not shown in the budget, said Bugay. Paychecks are issued by the state, so that dollar amount does not appear in the budget. “We cut them a check for $52 million,” for this purpose, Bugay explained. So the shortfall of about $8 million must be covered by the county.
Magsig asked about what programs the 1991 realignment could fund, to which Bugay replied that the realignment was “highly prescriptive,” and that the programs funded, such as foster care and child welfare services, were mandatory. Magsig again talked about growth and said that the growth of the programs was “outpacing realignment” and that it was necessary to “backfill with net county cost.” Bugay said that assessment was “for the most part” correct. Bugay said that realignment funding was deficient in the 2008-2009 economic collapse and then again in 2020, due to Covid.
As Bugay discussed comparisons with other California counties, Brandau asked if Fresno County was the “leader” in health-benefit contributions and among the top in salary paid over minimum wage. Bugay said yes.
Pacheco remarked that in his nearly eight years on the board, Bugay’s IHSS presentation was the best of any in that time. He asked Mendes if he agreed. Mendes said, “It’s still as clear as mud, but at least you can . . .” then his voice was unintelligible because of cross-talk.
Pacheco described the matter as an “extremely, extremely complicated issue” and reiterated that the presentation was “the best” he had ever seen in his years on the board. Applause ensued. The program affects a lot of people, and “it’s a tremendous amount of money.” Pacheco was glad that Bugay was in her position (she was appointed director of DSS in April 2022) and able to guide the board through the program’s complexities.
Public comments were opened on the matter. Eight people spoke.
A woman who gave her name as “Maria” said referring to earlier arrests of striking workers that there were no arrests that day and praised the board for being “proactive” in anticipation of a “silver tsunami,” or a dramatic increase in the need for the program as the population ages. She said that IHSS workers helped prevent “clogging” emergency rooms during the pandemic and added that the workers were “at the mercy” of the board for salary and benefits.
A frequent commenter before the board, Gloria Hernandez of Mothers Helping Mothers said that the board ought to invest in IHSS workers.
Speaking Spanish, a woman who did not give her name thanked the board through a translator “for putting us on the agenda.” She said they waited nine years for a 60-cent hourly increase but that another nine years was too long to wait. She is the care-provider for her husband, a stroke victim. She said that McDonald’s workers make more money than they do and thanked Brandau for his attendance at a Zoom meeting, calling him “kind.”
Commenters seemed to be asking for higher wage increases even though per Bugay the figures have already been determined.
Ofelia Ochoa of Mendota, speaking Spanish, said through a translator (she corrected the translator who called her “Olivia”) that she agreed with the previous commenter and complained about the lack of retirement funding and no vacation or holiday time. “Value us as the people we are,” she said.
Thomas, whose surname was unintelligible, spoke through a translator in an Asian language. He was the home care-provider for his 83-year-old sister, he said. In the past he worked four hours and could purchase four “whoppers” (fast-food hamburger sandwiches), but now for the same four hours he could purchase only two. He called that an “imbalance.” He complained about the cost of gas and several people nodded their heads.
Sonja Krantz appeared with her disabled son, Adam Ferguson, for whom she is caregiver at home through the IHSS program. She said that she “had a career” but gave it up so she could take care of her son full time at home. “We are you in a few years,” she said, suggesting that the population was rapidly aging and more people would need home care.
Martha (surname unintelligible) said she had been “locked up,” apparently arrested while protesting for higher salary. She said that it was “for the children,” but she did not elaborate. She has a daughter with Down syndrome and said that her husband wished the daughter would “go” before they did because of the anxiety they have about who would care for their daughter in their absence. “When you have someone who can’t think on their own or take care of herself,” it’s difficult, she said, tearing up.
Heather Evans, a county employee and a frequent commenter, talked about the difficulty of not being able to afford necessities and asked the board to “provide people with the opportunity to be full, productive citizens.”
Brandau asked Bugay about projections of future need for the program. She said that she did not have projections but emphasized that other medical-program eligibility changes will affect participation. Brandau asked for some studies to be made, because, he said things could “go upside-down real quick.”
Brandau then asked about fraud. Bugay said that there are multiple levels of fraud prevention: for example there is a quality-assurance program, annual reassessment of individual cases, and state review. She partners with the district attorney’s office as well. A new program on this subject which has just been launched, with instructive videos in five languages, will need another year before it can be evaluated. Brandau wanted to know if there were any prosecutions. A colleague of Bugay’s said that there have been two. Prevention rather than prosecution was the focus. CAO Nerland interjected that his office was also investigating and had so far found the program “effective.” A report was forthcoming.
Quintero asked if rules for state funds change much regarding how they are used for providers. Bugay said it depended on the funding source.
Magsig pressed a question about the monthly budget, if the hourly salary was increased to $20. He wanted confirmation that the county’s share in the resulting multi-million-dollar costs would be 16%. Bugay’s response: No. “The beauty of the MOE” would mean that the county’s obligation would not change. The county is protected from growth of hours worked. If the hourly wage increased by $4, it would exceed the state cap, so the county’s obligation would be 46% rather than 16%. The state sets the cap to protect their ability to fund the program. “Understood,” said Magsig.
Pacheco concluded discussion on this item.
Agenda Item #8 The board unanimously approved a petition for partial cancellation of agricultural land conservation contract to remove a 1.51-acre portion of a 50.99-acre parcel from a Williamson Act contract to allow for creation of a 1.51-acre parcel for residential use. The brief presentation was made by Will Kettler of the public works department.
Agenda Item #9 The board unanimously approved the appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of a conditional-use permit for construction and operation of a new funeral facility in an area zoned for agriculture. Concerns raised by neighbors had been resolved. Will Kettler of the public works department made the brief presentation.
Agenda Item #10 Supervisors’ comments and reports—these comments turned into a discussion of remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
Magsig said his office had received calls about a “commercially advertised concert” to be held at a private residence. A conditional-use permit was necessary for such activity, he said. Then he said he and Brandau were on a “tag team” regarding about $10 million in unused ARPA funds and that there was a “short window” to identify how to distribute those funds.
Brandau said that the ARPA subcommittee had met and confirmed that there was about $10 still available. He suggested “putting out a call for projects” or asking rejected parties to re-submit proposals. Brandau then talked about an abandoned house in Old Fig Garden Village which had been vandalized and in which squatters had been living. The matter was resolved in court, and Brandau thanked various county departments for their help.
Quintero thanked various county staff for their help in management of some homeless programs. Then he talked about the Big Fresno Fair and rattled off some statistics on how many thousands of pounds of butter, etc, were used to prepare the fair’s signature cinnamon rolls.
Mendes said that he had waited so long to speak, he had forgotten “what the hell he was going to say.” Then he said he was against soliciting new proposals for the use of the remaining ARPA funds and that people who applied and were rejected should be permitted to re-apply. He said that Community Service Districts (CSDs) “got nothing” previously and that Community Service Areas (CSAs) “have issues.”
Pacheco agreed with Mendes about re-submission of project proposals and didn’t think any new projects should be solicited. “It is the responsibility of the board to take care of CSDs and CSAs, before giving non-profits money,” he said. Magsig said that the decision would be what much of the board wants. Sonia de la Rosa, deputy CAO, commented that she was working on it with staff person George Uc. Magsig began to speak again, and Mendes said, “You done? You talked twice already.” Mendes repeated his opinion about distributing the funds and said he wanted George Uc to meet with Nerland and report back at the next board meeting.
Agenda Item #11 Board appointments. Pacheco had just one. Approved 5-0.
Agenda Item #12 Public comments regarding items not on the agenda. 7 people appeared to speak about a variety of subjects.
Michael Matthew said he represented a property-owners group and that they were opposed to a trail being built along a canal near his house. He asked the board to oppose the Southeast Development Area (SEDA) Specific Plan. Using vulgarism, he said, “This board has its s__t together,” which he found “very refreshing.”
David Ramming spoke next and echoed the previous speaker. He wanted a “country lifestyle,” and the residential development of 9,000 acres of agricultural land will “force farmers out.” He said that there would not be enough water to sustain a residential development of 250,000 people. “Farmland can be fallowed but houses can’t,” he said. Pacheco asked if this area was in Magsig’s district. It was. Michael Matthew, seated, said that he had already spoken privately with some of the supervisors and that it had been “productive.”
Maria (no surname given) who spoke previously on another subject was back to speak on behalf of the striking workers at the Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital. She asked the board to intervene.
Gloria Hernandez appeared again. She asked that the board permit “Zoom” participation in board meetings, because it was difficult for people in some parts of the county to attend in person. She asked that if the name-change for S____ Valley were to be placed on the ballot, it should be voted on by the entire county and that residents of the town should not be defended “for using that nasty word.”
Bayard Taylor said that he was a resident of S____ Valley, and he complained about the “rushed, unscientific” survey about the name change conducted by Magsig. He asked the board to “go on record and act now” to acknowledge the genocide of the Yokuts people who were the original residents of the valley. Pacheco said, “We generally don’t respond.” Taylor asked the board to “resolve to apologize.”
Matrice (no surname given) was a striking Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital worker. “Mario” (hospital owner Mario Marasigan) “came from LA” and “only cares about money,” she said. He won’t negotiate, she said, adding, “We desperately need your help.”
Jaime “Carlos” Loza, a frequent commenter, approached the podium. Pacheco acknowledged him: “It’s your turn, you’ve waited all day!” Loza began, “I’ve got such a bad hangover, it’s pitiful!” Then he said he went to a city meeting in Del Rey. “You guys are gonna trip on this!” he said. “It’s time for the citizens of Del Rey to stand up for themselves,” he said, “but I’m in Fresno County.” He said he had a “vision” for a “beautiful rest stop” on the “clogged” 99 highway. “We need to re-do 99 for tourists,” he said, suggesting Roeding Park and the zoo for such a use. He concluded, “God has opened up my eyes.”
Counsel Cederborg said that there would be no report from the closed-session meeting, so the public portion of the meeting was adjourned at 12:09 p.m.
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