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How the Los Angeles County Supplemental Budget Can Be a Game-Changer for Community-Based Organizations

Care First Community Investment programs — voted in with Measure J — have been deprived of allocated funds since the inception of the program.

Photo of City of Los Angeles Coat of Arms
Credit: Alex Malek

Despite the pleas of activists, the LA County Board of Supervisors made some last-minute changes to this fiscal year’s budget that appear to go against their stated intention of working on a “care first, jails last” approach. This included the highly contested additional allocation of $1.5 million to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to hire three additional captains on top of the $4 billion already allocated to the department. Other last-minute changes included adding $16.3 million for addressing homelessness and $117.8 million for restructuring the county juvenile probation system.

But the board’s adoption of the $43.4 billion total budget, which was passed at the end of June, is not set in stone. Community-based organizations (CBOs) are working hard to ensure the county’s supplemental budget, finalized October 3, accounts for these shortcomings by reallocating funds from carceral systems to CBO and other care-first, county-based resources — something that Los Angeles County residents voted on with Measure J back in 2020. Advocacy groups like youth-led organizations Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and the LA Youth Uprising coalition (LAYUP) are also pushing the Board of Supervisors to reallocate the supplemental budget while making sure funds are spent as budgeted, given the county’s history of hoarding these funds

The annual budgetary process for Los Angeles County tends to be dull and complex, making it challenging for people who would be directly affected by it to participate. Many are too occupied with work and the struggle to survive, or are incarcerated, leaving them with little opportunity to engage in the process. That’s why we’re going into the weeds and explaining how the Los Angeles County budget and supplemental budget process works.

What Is the Budget for Los Angeles County?

The LA County Board of Supervisors is responsible for overseeing the annual budget process, which begins with departments submitting their requests for funding. These include county departments like the Department of Mental Health, Public Social Services, and the LASD. The county gets additional funding from the state and federal agencies.

The approved budget for the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year allocates $4 billion to the LASD and an additional $1 billion to the Probation Department, despite county residents’ and activists’ calls to divert funds from policing and incarceration. On October 3, the Board of Supervisors gave their approval for a supplemental budget worth $3.4 billion. Despite persistent appeals from activists to shut down Men’s Central Jail, the detention facility is still operational. The chair of the Board of Supervisors, Janice Hahn, said, “We care deeply for those who are in custody and make sure we are protecting their safety as well as the safety of the deputies who are in our jails.” A complete breakdown of the 2023-2024 LA County Budget can be found on the CEO’s website. 

What Is the Timeline for the Los Angeles County Budget?

The fiscal year for LA County, the City of Los Angeles, and LA Unified School District begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. The Board of Supervisors approved the budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year on June 27, 2023.

The budgetary cycle for Los Angeles County kicks into gear around December and January, when different departments start to outline fiscal needs. Funding the Next Generation, a California-based initiative with a focus on increasing public funding providing opportunities for children and youth, has an in-depth outline of the LA County budgetary process, but here is the simplified timeline:

  • April: The Chief Executive Office presents a recommended budget to the Board of Supervisors. Fesia Davenport, the CEO of LA County, presented this budget to the board. 
  • May: Budget hearings take place. Since the county budget is also dependent on state and federal funding, the governor’s May Revision — an updated proposal that details the governor’s perspective on economic and revenue trends, as well as the policy priorities of his administration — plays a large role in funding allocations. 
  • June: The final budget is presented to the Board of Supervisors and a public hearing must take place before the board adopts a budget. The county budget is supposed to be approved by June 30, but there have been times when the state was unable to pass its budget in a timely fashion, holding up the county budget as well. 

What Is Measure J?

Los Angeles Measure J — now known as Care First Community Investment (CFCI) — is a budget allocation measure passed by voters in November 2020. Its goal is to redirect funds away from systems of harm, such as the criminal justice system, and into community-based alternatives and programs.

Measure J aims to allocate 10% of locally generated county funds, which is estimated to be between $360 million and $900 million, to be used for mental health services, affordable housing, youth development, alternatives to incarceration, and other community programs.

Implementing Measure J, has come with challenges and delays. Some critics have argued that it unconstitutionally limits the decision-making power of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors regarding revenue allocations. (On July 30, 2023, an appellate court ruled that Measure J is, in fact, constitutional.) The County CEO also faced allegations of delaying prison reform efforts promised by Measure J.

Additionally, some CBOs struggled to receive allocated funds due to invasive stipulations from the Probation Department. 

“The JJCC has supported ongoing funding to Ready to Rise, but funding has been stuck in the Probation department for over a year, because they are trying to require CBOs to share identifiable data on youth participants with the Probation department, something that Ready to Rise partners and other county organizations have refused to do,” Emilio Zapién tells Knock LA via email on behalf of YJC and LAYUP. The department ostensibly requires data reporting to track the success of programs, leaving CBOs unable to provide programs for at-risk youth.

“​​It is unclear where these negotiations have landed, but many CBOs were chosen for Ready to Rise grants and never received the money due to this issue, despite hiring staff,” Zapién said.

Why Is There Unspent Money in the LA County Budget, and Where Does It Fall Short?

Just because funds are allocated to a department or cause — such as decarceration efforts — doesn’t mean that the money is actually going to be spent in a way voters were led to believe after Measure J passed. 

Historically, the county has stockpiled unspent Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) funds without any apparent explanation. Every year, the county receives additional money from the state for its budget from JJCPA funding, which is meant to go toward programs for at-risk youth. 

Back in 2017, California Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra requested an audit of the way the Los Angeles County Probation Department spent its 2016 JJCPA funding, claiming that the county was hoarding $36.7 million in JJCPA dollars — almost a 50% increase of the unspent JJCPA funds the probation department hoarded in 2015.   

In 2019, the Board of Supervisors raised concerns about $79 million unspent in state funding (which, again, makes up part of the county budget) meant to go to programs for at-risk youth. In September, the Los Angeles Times editorial board published an op-ed about the millions of dollars in funding the county, namely the Probation Department, has hoarded. 

According to presentation by the county’s Chief Executive Office, the budget’s funding “underscores the urgency of improving conditions and mental health treatment in our County jails, restructuring our juvenile Probation system, and the need to move individuals into non-carceral care settings.” Yet the office admitted in this same presentation that “new funding was extremely limited” due to things like the massive underperformance of Measure ULA, AKA the “Mansion Tax,” which only brought in $3.6 million of the expected $56 million in its first month. 

The county is also “paying contractual obligations and legal settlements,” as in footing the legal costs for lawsuits against the county. This includes lawsuits against the LASD brought on by victims of police brutality. Lawsuits against LASD alone have cost the county nearly $100 million over the past 30 years.  

Back in April, Fesia Davenport estimated that the county could be forced to pay between $1.6 billion and $3 billion for “more than 3,000 claims alleging childhood sexual assault at various County and non-County facilities.” Nearly 600 people formerly incarcerated at Los Angeles County juvenile facilities have sued the county and roughly 200 unnamed officers for sexual abuse.

How Can the Supplemental Budget Help?

There is no question that the probation department has a mandate from county residents who voted in Measure J to stop hoarding funds and dole them out to CBOs. But the county budget would still leave the CFCI programs woefully underfunded, even if they were to receive all available funding. Many of these programs only receive one-time funding as opposed to ongoing funding, hindering organizations’ abilities to grow their staff and build out programs. That’s why it’s critical that the Board of Supervisors give ongoing funding to these programs as part of the supplemental budget.

These programs would not only keep at-risk youth out of harm’s way with the probation department, but also effectively cost the county less than incarcerating youth. In 2021, diversion services cost an estimated $7,000 per youth; it costs nearly a quarter million to keep one youth incarcerated per year. According to Youth Justice Reimagined’s Phase 1 Report and Initial Analysis following Measure J’s passing, nearly 80% of arrests in LA County have historically been eligible for diversion. 

Of course, there are countless ways these funds could be used in a way that actually serves at-risk youth instead of putting them in juvenile detention centers that could cost their lives.

“There are over 2 million people in LA County under the age of 18, and the JJCC estimates that there are over 700,000 youth who are vulnerable to future justice system involvement, so the sky is really the limit in the types of services that need funding and the need in LA county is great,” Zapién explained to Knock LA. This could include increased funding for housing support, increased programs for careers and living-wage jobs, and building capacity for more restorative and transformative justice programs.   

The Supplemental Budget Has Been Approved. What’s Next?

The Board of Supervisors has successfully concluded the finalization of the supplemental budget, supplementing an additional $3.4 billion to the previously approved budget of $43.3 billion in June. This budget augmentation has facilitated the creation of 666 new job opportunities spread across various departments including Mental Health, Children and Family Services, and Recreation and Parks. In addition, over 30 positions have been specifically designed to aid the transition of individuals with mental health needs from incarceration.

However, organizations such as YJC and LAYUP express concerns that these measures may not suffice. They point out that despite the Probation Department’s budget now standing at $1.1 billion, aided by an extra $53 million from the supplemental budget, the investment is misdirected. The 30+ positions purportedly aimed at assisting incarcerated individuals are being allocated to “safety and security specialists” at facilities like Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf, two juvenile detention centers in the county, as explained by Zapién to Knock LA via email.

Zapién further elaborates that these positions will be filled by armed, mostly retired officers whose role will be to patrol and potentially criminalize youth. “We advocate for a ‘care first’ budget. Where’s the focus on well-being, mental health, jobs, and education? What about investing in the reimagined concept of youth justice?” Zapién questioned.

As the budget goes into effect, the challenge identified by organizations like YJC and LAYUP lies in ensuring that the supplemental budget truly serves its purpose — not just in creating jobs, but in fostering a more holistic approach to youth justice and facilitating lasting change and progress for the youth of LA County.