Sen. Ricardo Lara and Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León discuss the state budget that passed this week. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Lara’s office.)
Calling it one of the “best” budgets the state has ever had, California Gov. Jerry Brown said the $167.6 billion dollar budget the legislature passed Tuesday would pump more money into child care and education, pay down the state’s debt by $1.9 billion and provide health care for its undocumented children.
“This is just one step and we need to do more,” Brown said during a press conference, referring to the $40 million budgetary allocation for providing health insurance to all California children regardless of their immigration status, through Medi-Cal – California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.
A jubilant Lara noted that the budget deal “affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars” to the state’s economy.
He called the $40 million allocation a “modest investment in health care that will be transformational in the lives of not only children,” but also their families and the community as a whole.
The governor’s remark that more needs to be done, including how to address the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates – the lowest in the nation — will be discussed in a special session in a few weeks.
“This expansion of coverage to all children regardless of immigration status would make California’s children healthier, our health system stronger, and our families and communities more financially secure,” asserted Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.
The original intent of SB 4, the Health for All bill sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, was to provide health care for the state’s nearly 1.5 million undocumented residents, both children and adults, by seeking a waiver from the federal government to allow them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. The Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented U.S. residents from any federally funded health insurance program.
The $40 million allocated to enroll undocumented children in Medi-Cal is contingent upon the passage of SB 4. The bill cleared the Senate last month and is now before the Assembly. If it is signed into law, California would be the first state in the country to invest in the health of undocumented children, noted Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who participated alongside the governor in the press conference.
De Leon, who had backed SB 4 since it was introduced in the Senate late last year, said Washington’s inaction has caused “financial consequences throughout the country.”
Lara’s bill, he said, will send a “very strong message” to lawmakers in Washington who have “dithered” on immigration reform.
Brown said that his office would be hiring an immigration coordinator to assist youth who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under President Obama’s executive action of 2012. One million more California residents could become eligible for deportation relief if the federal courts allow Obama’s 2014 executive action to move forward.