A Historic Step for Children’s Health and Well-Being in California

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Photo: The California Endowment Facebook page

All children—no matter who they are or where they are from—should have the opportunity to be healthy and reach their full potential. On May 16, California took a historic step toward this goal by providing all children who are income-eligible the opportunity for full coverage through Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) regardless of immigration status.

Estimates suggest that upwards of 170,000 children will be eligible. Kids who are insured through programs like Medicaid do better in the classroom and have greater economic opportunity as adults.

But this historic moment in California’s history did not just happen on its own. Thanks to the bold leadership of State Senator Ricardo Lara as well as a tremendous organizing effort from health, immigrant rights, and children’s groups, as well as others in the advocacy community, SB 75 or Health4AllKids is now a reality. While it is not the first state to provide coverage to all children regardless of status (Washington state, DC, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts have implemented similar laws), California is the largest.

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California’s Legislature Shows That It Can Work for the People

California is leading the way once again. This time it’s doing so with provisions in its budget that benefits its most vulnerable residents.

The 2015–2016 budget, which was approved last week, included $380 million to create a State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an especially important provision that NCLR vigorously supported. During our recent California Latino Advocacy Day, representatives from NCLR Affiliates met with lawmakers to show their support for AB 43, the EITC bill. This was the right thing for California to do. While the state and much of the country have recovered since the Great Recession, low- and middle-income working families, especially Latino households, have struggled to follow suit. The disparity is borne out by the statistics, which show that the bottom three-fifths of the state’s income distribution has stagnated, while the top fifth has grown by 52 percent.

The EITC is a smart solution that the federal government and 25 other states have implemented to lift more people out of poverty. Researchers have long cited the federal EITC as one of the most effective tools for reducing poverty across the country. In fact, from 2010 to 2012, the federal EITC put 1.3 million people above the poverty line in California alone. The legislature’s passage of the state EITC also underscores the need to extend the federal EITC and the Child Tax Credit, which will expire in 2017. Congress should follow California’s lead by working in a bipartisan manner to protect two of the most successful antipoverty measures this country has ever known.

We were also glad to see $15 million allocated for the One California proposal. This wise investment in community-based education, outreach, and application assistance for both deportation relief and citizenship will advance immigrant inclusion and prosperity across the state. Further, investing in a director of immigrant integration within Governor Jerry Brown’s administration offers a key opportunity for the state to develop a thoughtful, long-term strategy to fully include and honor our diverse immigrant communities.

In the health care arena, the legislature also made history when it included $40 million to expand the state’s Medi-Cal program to undocumented children, It is estimated that 170,000 young people under 19 could qualify for the expansion. Speaking at a news conference, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon said, “We are the first legislative body—we are the first state in the union—to invest in children without legal status. With this budget, we’re saying that immigrants matter, irrespective of who you are or where you’re from.”

We applaud state legislators for creating opportunities for immigrants rather than putting up obstacles, which many in Washington have opted to do. Through a state EITC, the One California proposal, and expansion of Medi-Cal to undocumented children, the California legislature has shown what can happen when partisan differences are put aside to achieve something greater. We salute California for crafting a budget that serves the interest of all its residents.