A Time of Growing Need

California’s families are reeling from the most severe recession since the Great Depression. With more than 2.2 million Californians unemployed and another 1.5 million underemployed, a growing number of families are seeking assistance from critical supports such as food stamps and Healthy Families to help make ends meet. In a new CBP report released today, Proposed Budget Cuts Come at a Time of Growing Need, we find that:

  • The number of Californians receiving food stamps jumped by more than 900,000 between October 2007 and October 2009 – a 43.0 percent increase. In contrast, Food Stamp enrollment rose by just 6.4 percent between October 2001 and October 2003, as unemployment continued to increase in the wake of the 2001 downturn.
  • Nearly half a million additional Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal for health coverage between May 2007 and May 2009 – the most recent period for which complete data are available. The rise in Medi-Cal enrollment paralleled the increase in the state’s unemployment rate – a trend that’s not surprising given that the loss of a job also often means the loss of health coverage.
  • The number of children seeking health coverage through the Healthy Families Program increased by approximately 97,000 between July 2007 and July 2009. From July to September of 2009, a temporary enrollment freeze due to budget cuts substantially reduced the number of children with coverage through Healthy Families. However, enrollment has begun to rebound since the freeze was lifted.

These findings underscore the vital role that government plays in people’s lives – particularly now as workers and their families face the toughest economic climate in decades. Public dollars play an important dual role when the economy is weak: They help families who are struggling because of the recession make ends meet and they help boost the economy by increasing families’ spending power. As policymakers work to close the state’s budget gap, they should seek to avoid deep cuts to critical supports. We recommend that policymakers take a balanced approach that combines prudent spending reductions, additional revenues, and continued federal aid.

— Alissa Anderson

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