In a departure from budgets of years past, California Gov. Jerry Brown this year is not proposing dramatic cuts to programs for the poor, aged and disabled. Instead, there are even creep-backs in funding for programs previously battered, such as welfare-to-work initiatives and pay for home health-care workers.
"The high level good news is there are no cuts," California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley said in a conference call with reporters shortly after the budget proposal was released Thursday.
Central to the state's safety net challenge in the coming year is the roll-out of federal health care reforms, which in California will significantly expand the Medi-Cal program to include new populations previously uninsured. Brown's budget proposal sets aside an initial $350 million from the general fund to begin addressing the expansion of the program, now serving one out of every five residents. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will provide much -- but not all -- of the funding for the expansion of care costs.
Still to come are decisions about whether the expansion will be county-based, or state-based, and so far there are major gaps in the data required to make such a decision, Dooley said. It remains unknown, for example, just how many people beyond the current 8 million Medi-Cal recipients would be eligible under the expanded program.
On the social services front, Brown's administration proposes $19.5 billion for the Department of Social Services, an increase of $577.4 million from last fiscal year's final budget. That amount allows for new spending on programs to connect welfare recipients with work, supports that have dropped off in recent budget cycles, as well as small increases in child-care funding for the working poor. The state is expecting to serve 572,000 families on its CalWORKS program in 2013 and 2014.
The budget blueprint also provides for slight increases in funding for another previously battered program -- In-Home Supportive Services -- which provides domestic-based care and transportation for more than 400,000 low-income aged, blind, and disabled residents.
In yet another turnaround, the state will also increase, rather than decrease, the amount of cash payments for aged, blind and disabled people in need of Supplemental Security Income benefits for basic needs and living expenses.
Despite the lack of cuts, the budget plan was seen as a frustration and missed opportunity by many who rallied up and down the state Thursday morning as the budget was released, including roughly 30 mothers, seniors and disabled people who protested outside the Gardner Health Center, a publicly funded clinic in San Jose.
"The poor people in California and people who depend on these services have paid for us dearly getting to this point," said Pete Woiwode, an organizer with the California Partnership, a network of health and human service agencies. "Yes, we were relieved there's a smaller budget deficit; we're relieved that there are no deeper cuts this year. But after $15 billion in cuts since 2008, the governor needs to start restoring, rebuilding and reinvesting the programs that were cut."
Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.