SAN FRANCISCO–Advocates for both ethnic communities and children reacted with alarm to the state budget that Gov. Jerry Brown proposed on Thursday.
The proposal aims to reduce the budget deficit from the $26.2 billion budget hole of one year ago to $9.2 billion through budget cuts and revenue generators amounting to $10.3 billion.
However, the cuts come mostly at the expense of low-income ethnic communities and children in particular.
Cuts Would Impact Access to Care
Chad Silva, policy director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, commented, “The programs that impact the lowest income folks are getting cut and are going to hurt them in very significant ways because they impact access to care.”
People from ethnic and racial groups make up about 60 percent of those benefiting from the state’s Healthy Family program and 70 percent of people on Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program. Regions, such as Los Angeles and the Central Valley, which have high percentages of Latino populations enrolled in those programs, would be hit particularly hard by the reductions if they are passed by the State Legislature.
The governor’s proposal recommends a $1.1 billion cut to the CalWORKS program, which would affect nearly 600,000 low-income families and over 1 million children living in poverty, including many in deep poverty, below 50 percent of the federal poverty line.
The governor proposes reducing eligibility for employment services, such as training opportunities and employment assistance, from 48 months to 24 months.
For children whose parents would no longer be eligible for aid under the reduced and restructured CalWORKS program, Brown recommends creating a new Child Maintenance program staring with the new fiscal year in October 2012. However, although income and resource eligibility criteria for the new program would be the same as it has been under CalWORKS, the average monthly grant for child-only cases would decrease from $463 to $392.
Additionally, programmatic changes the governor is calling for in Medi-Cal are troubling, say advocates for children and families, because their consequences remain unclear.
Brown proposes to transfer 875,000 Healthy Families beneficiaries to Medi-Cal and also to reduce the rates the state pays managed care providers by about 25 percent, beginning in October. Patient advocates worry that the sharply lower payments will lead to fewer providers willing to take on Healthy Families recipients.
Changes Called “Alarming”
Mike Odeh, the health policy associate for Children Now, stated, “It’s alarming because it’s a big change in a short period of time. Our concern is to make sure kids don’t lose coverage in the transition.”
Advocates also question whether Medi-Cal can handle the extra children due to the significant cuts to that program last year.
The governor’s proposal declares further that it will reform the payment model for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics in order to trim $28 million in state health spending in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
However, Brown’s plan contained few specifics on how the state could achieve those savings. “The devil’s in the details, it could be a good thing or a bad thing, we’re not really sure. Considering they’re taking money out of the system, that seems like it will have an impact on access,” said Odeh.
Equally concerning to advocates are the proposed budget cuts to education.
If Brown’s tax initiative passes in November, K-12 schools and community colleges will be provided with nearly $4.8 million more than they received this fiscal year; however, without the passage of his plan, schools will face further deep cuts.
Within his proposal, Brown eliminates the requirement that schools provide transitional kindergarten instruction. Effectively barring 125,000 kindergarten students from California’s public school system, this change would mark the largest removal of students from public school classrooms in national history.
Silva of Latino Coalition for a Healthy California commented that those who would feel the biggest effect from the cuts need to understand the linkage between health outcomes and educational opportunity. “Further cuts to education are only going to affect the upward mobility and prospective health outcomes for communities of color,” he asserted.
Odeh of Children Now somberly concluded, “There are a lot of unknowns right now, and it’s not looking very pretty.”