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Sandra Martínez
Director of Public Policy

Sandra J. Martínez is director of public policy at The California Wellness Foundation. In this capacity, she plans, coordinates and oversees Cal Wellness’ public policy activities as a means of advancing its mission, achieving its goals and amplifying the impact of its grantmaking.

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Here’s What California’s 2017-2018 Budget Reveals About What Our State Values

By Sandra Martínez, Director of Public Policy

California is one of the top 10 economies in the world, so our $183 billion state budget not only affects the lives of every Californian; it also has profound national impact. Where we spend our dollars makes a statement.

Put another way, the budgets we create demonstrate what we value, as The California Budget and Policy Center, one of our grantees, often says. I’m pleased to say that Governor Brown has just signed a budget that reflects many of the values that The California Wellness Foundation holds dear.

With the newly approved budget, we see a commitment to: 1) improving access to health services (particularly oral health), 2) improving financial health for low-income Californians, and 3) supporting vulnerable populations.

Health Access

The Governor signed into the budget several key health care provisions, including full restoration of Denti-Cal. This was perhaps the biggest surprise. During the Great Recession dental and nine other benefits in the Medi-Cal program were cut. Yes, there was partial restoration in 2013, but that only covered primary and preventative care and full dentures. With this new action, gum treatments, rear root canals and partial dentures will now be funded and available to many low-income California residents.

We’ll see higher reimbursements for dental and medical providers. Because of low reimbursements, many dental and medical providers won’t provide care to patients who have Medi-Cal. Last fall, voters passed into law a new tobacco tax and until recently it was unclear how these new revenues would be allocated. Well, good news! Lawmakers decided that these funds should be used to improve reimbursements to dental providers, family planning and physician and other specialists with a goal of increased access for patients.

Financial Health

This year’s budget takes important steps to help low-income earners improve their financial health by expanding the California Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable credit.  More than 1 million additional families throughout California will benefit (up from 400,000 households in 2015) from the tax credit under the new budget. Self-employed workers can now access this benefit, and families working full-time at the newly increased minimum wage will also benefit, thanks to the raised income limit for eligibility.

Vulnerable Populations

The budget also includes a historic investment of $45 million to increase and expand services to support the One California program administered by the CA Department of Social Services.  This amount would begin with $15 million and increase to $45 million through the 2019-2020 fiscal year.  Services provided by One California include education and outreach about immigrant rights, application assistance for key programs, legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, training and technical assistance.

Challenges Ahead

While this is a better budget year than most, there will be some challenges to realizing this budget, including:

  • Higher payments for clinicians and services through the Medi-Cal program would be matched by federal funds, and as a result they are subject to approval by the Trump administration.
  • The California budget is being passed as the federal government is working to dismantle some of the health gains of the last few years, including most notably the Affordable Care Act, as well as proposing deep cuts in the safety net – changes that will limit access to care and cut key income support programs such as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

So while we must celebrate that advances have been made in our state budget, we can’t overlook the national environment or underestimate the challenges to come as we defend years of progress in providing greater access to health care services for our must vulnerable citizens.

For more analysis of the state budget, check out these resources:

Health Access blog: Recent posts include news about the Denti-Cal restoration and reimbursement rate increase.

California Budget and Policy Center. Currently, they have analysis of the original budget, the May revise and a statement on the EITC. See the full analysis of the budget here.

California Immigrant Policy Center. Great resource on immigrants and immigrant policy efforts in California.

Office of the Governor

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