Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump

Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.

Ready for another year? Follow along here.

How California policy affects you, straight to your inbox

Resistance State

Oct. 25, 2017 3:12 pm

Trump administration opposes CA plan for twin water tunnels, then backpedals

Environment

The Trump administration announced today that it won’t support a tunnel project to transport water from the California Delta to thirstier parts of the state, only to pedal back from that statement hours later.

“The Trump administration did not fund the project and chose to not move forward with it,” Russell Newell, deputy communications director for the U.S. Interior Department, told the Associated Press.

Such a retreat by the feds would have been a massive blow to Gov. Brown, who has been pushing for the project.

How California policy affects you, straight to your inbox

The California Delta, also known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, has deteriorated and wildlife is being threatened after decades of pumping. Brown wants to divert some of the Sacramento River’s flow upstream and pipe water to existing pumps through two new 35-mile-long tunnels. It would be a way to keep water flowing south and avoid having to shut off the pumps and lose water to the ocean, which occasionally happens now because of environmental requirements to protect fish.

Funding has been a sticking point. Brown wants California water districts to pay $16 billion for the tunnels, but in recent weeks he has talked about scaling back the project after two key water districts opted not to pay for it.

The Brown administration did not comment on the Interior Department’s initial announcement, which marked a reversal from Obama administration’s prior support for the project.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is not helping to pay for the project’s construction, the bureau has helped with planning and preparing environmental documents. The Interior Department clarified today after hours of confusion that it would continue to work with the state.

“While the Department of the Interior shares the goals of the state of California to deliver water with more certainty, eliminating risks to the California water supply, and improving the environment, at this time, the Department under the current state proposal does not expect to participate in the construction or funding of the CA WaterFix. The Department and Reclamation will continue to work with the state and stakeholders as the project is further developed,” the department said.

Last month, an audit found that Interior officials under the Obama administration improperly spent $84 million in federal taxpayer money to help California pay for planning for the tunnels. On Tuesday, five California Democrats asked the U.S. General Accountability Office to determine whether those payments were illegal.

Economy Reporter
Resistance State

April 12, 2018 4:17 pm

Gavin Newsom says he’d refuse Trump on sending National Guard to the border

A day after Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to the Trump administration’s request to beef up the National Guard in states along the Mexico border, fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would not have made the same decision as governor.

But Newsom, who is the front-runner in the race to replace Brown as governor, put a large asterisk on his disagreement with Brown:

How California policy affects you, straight to your inbox

Brown announced Wednesday that he would accept federal funding to add 400 California National Guard members “to combat transnational crime.” But he laid out a long list of conditions in an agreement with federal authorities: The troops will not build a border wall or enforce immigration laws, and the arrangement is approved only until Sept. 30. Brown also specified that when it comes to the state’s National Guard, he is the “commander in chief.”

America’s Commander in Chief responded Thursday on Twitter: “Thank you Jerry, good move for the safety of our Country!”

Political Reporter
Affordable Care Act

April 9, 2018 6:55 pm

California takes on Texas and Trump over billions of health care dollars

Health care

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra moved today to intervene in a Texas lawsuit aimed at undoing Obamacare. Becerra and 15 other attorneys general joined forces to file their motion to prevent “immediate and irreparable harm,” as Becerra put it, to California and other states.

At stake is an estimated $160 billion in federal dollars for California’s health care system, with a combined potential loss of about $500 billion for 15 states and the District of Columbia, according to Becerra. The Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress repeatedly have tried to unravel or eliminate Obamacare, with mixed results.

“The Affordable Care Act changed the world,” Becerra said. “We can’t and we won’t go back.”

How California policy affects you, straight to your inbox

He pointed out that roughly 5 million people were signed to insurance coverage in California through Obamacare, under the Covered California exchange and the state’s expansion of Medi-Cal ranks. Before Obamacare, he also noted, many health conditions weren’t covered even if patients had insurance, and some patients were denied care based on pre-existing conditions. But all of that changed under the Affordable Care Act.

If Obamacare is overturned, the federal dollars that go with it will evaporate. That includes subsidies for insurance bought through the Covered California exchange, and a large share of the cost for California’s Medi-Cal expansion.

The 16 Democratic attorneys general hope to be allowed to participate fully in the court debate, which affects states outside of Texas.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

“Striking down the Affordable Care Act would cause immediate and irreparable harm to California and the nation,” Becerra said. “If this lawsuit goes forward, it will cause chaos. It’s our intent to protect families in California.”

Texas et al. v. United States et al. argues the Affordable Care Act is no longer valid because the recent tax overhaul by Congress eliminated the requirement that individuals have health insurance or pay a fine. Without that penalty, Obamacare no longer includes a tax imposed by Congress, and that spells the end of it, according to the lawsuit.

“Once the heart of the ACA—the individual mandate—is declared unconstitutional,” the Texas complaint says, “the remainder of the ACA must also fall.”

“The repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have devastating consequences for California and the nation,” said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “The (Texas) lawsuit seems frivolous, because Congress modifies existing law all the time, but that does not invalidate the original law being modified.”

Becerra noted that the ACA’s constitutionality already has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The other attorneys general joining the motion to intervene are from Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Contributing Writer
Resistance State

April 9, 2018 1:41 pm

Work to get Medi-Cal? California bill says no

Health care

Since the Trump administration said in January that states could require Medicaid recipients to work if they want to continue receiving the benefit, three states have signed on: Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas. Many others are considering it.

California, of course, is walking a different path. State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) is floating a bill to ban work requirements for Medi-Cal recipients. Medicaid is the national health care program for the poor; the California version of it is Medi-Cal.

Hernandez called the federal work-requirement idea “backwards” when introducing his bill. “Now is the time to focus all efforts on covering more people,” he said, “not less.”

How California policy affects you, straight to your inbox

Proponents of the work requirement say it can save money and make recipients accountable for receiving benefits. The whole point of requiring work for non-disabled adults, according to federal guidance, is to promote recipients’ well-being and increase their self-sufficiency.

Critics argue it won’t reach any of those goals and, in fact, might actually cost states money. Erecting a work wall, they say, also would discourage people from getting Medicaid and drop many people who need it.  

 “I’m not sure why adding a work requirement would promote well-being,” said Nadereh Pourat, director of research at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “The reality is, the great majority of Medicaid recipients are children or seniors—or they’re part of working families. We can’t assume people who get Medicaid are just sitting on their hands.”

In California, most of the working-age poor on Medi-Cal already do have jobs. According to a California HealthCare Foundation report based on 2016 data, children and seniors make up the vast majority of Medi-Cal recipients. Only about a third are working-age, non-disabled adults.

The majority of those adults, 62% of them, work. Among those not working, almost all (82%) were ill, caring for an ailing family member or going to school.

Costs and taxes remain potential obstacles to a single-payer plan.

Who’s left? The report said 324,000 Californians who didn’t work and were eligible to work were receiving Medi-Cal benefits. That’s about 2.4% of the 13.5 million on Medi-Cal.

If a work requirement would lift those people out of poverty and off Medi-Cal, that would save the state money, right?

That’s a pipe dream, according to Anthony Wright, executive director of the Sacramento-based Health Access, a nonprofit health advocacy group. Wright said a work requirement won’t make jobs appear.

The real way the work-for-Medicaid plan saves money is by cutting back on the number of people who receive benefits, he said. Imposing a lot more paperwork and eligibility requirements would do the trick, he said.

“This will have an impact because of the paperwork and administrative barriers being put up to get coverage. People will fall off coverage as a result,” Wright said. “That’s the hidden agenda.

“Those [work-for-Medicaid] rules would marginalize Medi-Cal as a welfare program, rather than see it as a safety net for all of us,” he said.

The Hernandez bill doesn’t defy federal guidance the same way California’s cannabis and sanctuary laws do—adoption of a Medicaid work requirement is a choice. But it sends a message.

Hernandez has said he’s hoping other states might follow California’s lead. And resistance did crop up in Minnesota, where one legislator sent a message similar to California’s:

Democratic Sen. Tony Lourey recently proposed an amendment to a Republican-backed work-for-Medicaid measure in Minnesota, one that the GOP-controlled Legislature there quickly voted down. It would have required that lawmakers lose their state-funded health care benefits unless they work with some of the people affected by the legislation.

That is, the amendment said legislators must put in some time at, say, the county human services agency when the Legislature was not in session, or they’d lose their state health coverage.

The California bill already has passed the Senate Health committee, which Hernandez chairs, and has been given priority status by the influential Latino caucus. It has no organized opposition and is expected to sail through the Legislature.

Contributing Writer

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest