Budget Blueprint Draws Quick Praise

by Bob Norberg, California Healthline Contributing Reporter

TOPIC ALERT:

blueprint of priorities for the 2014-2015 California budget released by Assembly Democrats Wednesday drew quick praise for its efforts to address child poverty and public health.

The document released by Assembly Speaker John  Perez (D-Los Angeles) and the Assembly Democratic Caucus set goals of building a budget reserve of $8 billion within three years, paying down debt and funding early education, higher education, job creation and child poverty programs.

The Democrats were commended for "highlighting the crisis of millions of children living in poverty across our communities, and outlining practical ways we can improve their lives," said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, in a prepared statement. "Child poverty is a terrible plague that haunts children and families for generations."

Among the efforts targeting child poverty are expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing the CalWORKS Earned Income Disregard and improving job training programs for CalWORKS recipients.

"Anti-poverty strategies are critical to achieving the goal of long-term economic health for our communities and our state," Mecca said. His organization is a not-for-profit association representing the human services directors of the 58 California counties.

Anthony Wright of Health Access California praised the budget priorities for building a reserve while still restoring cuts that have been made to health services.

The Democrats' goals include restoring some cuts in Medi-Cal reimbursements and restoring such programs as the Early Mental Health Initiative, Asthma Public Health Initiative and Black Infant Health.

"The Assembly leadership is appropriately looking at restoring the worst of the cuts that were slashed during the budget crisis," Wright said in a prepared statement. "It would be financially irresponsible not to revisit and restore some of the cuts made during the depth of the recession, including those that can draw down more federal matching funds."

Wright said Medicaid reimbursement rates for California's Medi-Cal program were already among the lowest in the nation which led to reduced access to care for the state's seven million Medi-Cal beneficiaries even before the 10% cut went into effect.

"That's a cut that should be cancelled before it causes more damage to the health system on which we all rely," Wright said. "California should restore key public health programs that promote prevention and save money in the long-term."

The governor's initial budget proposal is scheduled to be released next month. The deadline for passing the budget is June 15.

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