How the 2016-17 Budget Deal Addresses 10 Key Health, Human Services, and Housing Issues

This week, the Legislature passed the budget bill for the 2016-17 fiscal year — which begins on July 1 — along with many of the “trailer bills” that are included in the budget package. (Trailer bills revise state law to reflect the policies assumed in the budget bill. Additional trailer bills are expected to be passed and sent to the Governor next week.) The budget package, which reflects an agreement between lawmakers and Governor Brown that was announced last week, includes support for a broad range of policies that will improve the lives of Californians in the year ahead, particularly residents who are struggling to make ends meet on low incomes.

Prior to the announcement of the budget deal, we highlighted 10 key health, human services, and housing issues on which policymakers had staked out divergent positions as this year’s budget debate progressed. In each of these cases, one or both houses of the Legislature called for boosting state investments beyond the levels proposed by the Governor. This blog post revisits these 10 issues, looking at how each of them fared in the budget agreement. This post does not address policies included in the budget package that had received broad support from the Governor and Democratic lawmakers, such as increasing CalWORKs grants by 1.43 percent effective October 1, 2016, and using $2 billion in bond funds to increase the supply of housing for people with mental illness who are chronically homeless.

Strengthening Services and Supports for Low-Income Families, Seniors, and People With Disabilities

The 2016-17 budget package:

  • Repeals the CalWORKs Maximum Family Grant rule (or “family cap”), which denies additional cash assistance for any child who is conceived and born while the family is receiving aid. This change, which takes effect on January 1, 2017, will provide an additional $136 per child per month for the 130,000 children affected by the repeal. The Assembly and the Senate had each included this repeal in their spending plans adopted in May.
  • Modestly increases state support for subsidized child care and preschool. Payments for child care and preschool providers, including centers and family child care homes, will rise on January 1, 2017. In addition, nearly 3,000 new preschool slots will be created effective March 1, 2017. These changes are estimated to increase state spending by $112.8 million in 2016-17. The Assembly and the Senate had each included additional funding for subsidized child care and preschool in their spending plans.
  • Modestly increases the state’s (SSP) portion of SSI/SSP grants for seniors and people with disabilities. The SSP portion of the grant will rise by 2.76 percent on January 1, 2017, an increase of $4.32 per month for individuals and $10.94 per month for couples. This increase reflects the Governor’s January proposal, which had been included in the Assembly’s spending plan. The Senate had proposed a somewhat larger SSP increase.
  • Does not include a proposal to help CalWORKs families pay for diapers. The Assembly had included this proposal in its spending plan.

Addressing California’s Affordable Housing Crisis

The 2016-17 budget package:

  • Expands efforts to move Californians out of homelessness and into stable housing. The budget package boosts funding for the CalWORKs Housing Support Program (HSP) by $12 million, bringing total funding to $47 million in 2016-17. The Assembly and the Senate had proposed a $15 million increase for the HSP. The budget deal also includes an Assembly proposal to allow CalWORKs families to access Homeless Assistance Program services once every 12 months, scrapping the current once-in-a-lifetime limit on access to these services. In addition, the budget provides one-time state funding to help homeless people with disabilities to access disability benefits, such as SSI/SSP ($45 million); provide emergency shelter grants ($45 million); and reduce homelessness among families who are involved with the child welfare system ($10 million). These three allocations are all based on proposals included in the Senate’s spending plan adopted in May.
  • Does not include new state investments in affordable housing programs, but such funding could be provided contingent on future negotiations among lawmakers and the Governor. As part of their conference committee actions earlier this month, the Assembly and the Senate reached an agreement to provide $400 million for affordable housing programs in 2016-17. (This is roughly 60 percent of the amount initially proposed by the Assembly for this purpose.) However, various reports indicate that this funding was not included in the budget bill as passed by the Legislature. Instead, this funding is contingent on the outcome of negotiations regarding the Governor’s proposal to streamline the local approval process for certain multifamily developments that include affordable housing. These discussions could continue throughout the summer.

Improving Health Care Services

The 2016-17 budget package:

  • Reestablishes school-based dental services. The budget deal provides $3.2 million in 2016-17 to reinstate the California Children’s Dental Disease Prevention Program, which ceased operating after losing all General Fund support in 2009. The Assembly and the Senate had each reinstated this program in their spending plans adopted in May.
  • Scales back “estate recovery” in Medi-Cal so that it applies solely to long-term care services, consistent with federal law. This change, which will take effect on January 1, 2017, is estimated to increase state spending by $5.7 million in 2016-17. This reform had been included in the spending plans adopted by both the Assembly and the Senate in May.
  • Addresses concerns about the adequacy of language interpretation in Medi-Cal by supporting a multicounty pilot program, including an evaluation. The budget package provides $3 million to address the availability and reimbursement of certified, in-person interpreters in Medi-Cal. (Funding is contingent on the enactment of legislation creating the program.) In their spending plans adopted in May, the Assembly and the Senate had each provided $15 million to increase the availability of certified, in-person interpreters in Medi-Cal.
  • Does not include a proposal to allow Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal’s “Aged & Disabled” (A&D) program to qualify for no-cost coverage with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The income limit for the A&D program has declined to 123 percent of the poverty line since the program was created more than a decade ago. A&D enrollees whose incomes exceed this limit must pay a share of their health care costs, potentially amounting to hundreds of dollars per month, before Medi-Cal begins to pay for services. In their spending plans adopted in May, the Assembly and the Senate had each increased the income limit to 138 percent of the poverty line.

— Scott Graves