In summary

Budgeting for California has become a more solemn exercise; what’s before us today is a statement of our collective values and priorities.

By Jim Frazier, Special to CalMatters

Assemblyman Jim Frazier is a Democrat who represents Assembly District 11, in Solano, Contra Costa and Sacramento counties, Jim.Frazier@asm.ca.gov. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

When California’s economy is strong, like it was in January, passing the state’s annual budget was a pleasant responsibility. Ample tax dollars and a significant surplus meant that most policy priorities received funding and those programs warranting increases received them.

However, with California now facing near record unemployment and the state’s surplus now in deficit, budgeting becomes a more solemn exercise. What’s before us today is a statement of our collective values and priorities.

In his May Budget Revise, Gov. Gavin Newsom reduced his initial $222 billion January budget to $203 billion. The reduction is a testament to the economic havoc wrought by COVID-19.

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The administration’s revised budget would cut $500 million to Medicaid-funded intellectual and developmental disabilities services unless Congress passes additional aid to states, and that federal legislation specifically allocates further federal Medicaid funds to California. These cuts would devastate the more than 350,000 Californians with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

For two decades, California has underfunded the developmental disability system. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a state rate study identified a funding gap of more than $1.4 billion for disability programs. The COVID-19 public health crisis has made this problem worse, significantly increasing the cost of safely delivering services to those with developmental disabilities. 

Newsom has said that budgets represent a statement of our values. I agree. As the Newsom administration and the Legislature enter the final stretch of budget negotiations, our state leaders must make a commitment to protect vital support services for those populations who need them most but cannot advocate for themselves.  

Protecting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is personal. I chair the Select Committee on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, where we work diligently to shine a light on the population of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one of the most underserved groups in California.

The administration’s proposed cuts threaten the stability of Medicaid-funded provider services that keep people with intellectual and developmental disabilities safe and healthy during normal times, made all the more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Californians with developmental disabilities are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection and complications. Maintaining the essential safety net of services, equipped to meet their unique needs, should be a priority for state funding during this public health crisis. 

Before COVID-19, many children and adults with disabilities were on waitlists for services and housing. More than 28,000 programs have closed during the last decade. All too frequently, the staff providing essential services are paid poverty-level wages.

The Legislature’s approved budget maintains critical funding for health and human service programs, including programs targeted toward people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – infants, those in independent living, senior citizens and others. It also focuses on using state reserves to minimize these cuts.

Our budget approach provides flexibility. Where the Newsom administration’s budget recommends cuts now with the hope of restoring them if Congress does the right thing, the Legislature took a different approach. We fund important programs like intellectual and developmental disabilities and public education now and will consider what the future looks like when we get a better understanding of what state tax revenue and federal funding looks like in the next couple of months.

In the big picture, $500 million represents a rounding error in a $200-billion state budget; however, for the infants, children, seniors and their families, large funding cuts represent quality of life changes and, in some circumstances, life or death.

On top of the many pressures the governor faces on a daily basis, this year’s budget went from surplus to deficit in the span of three months. Newsom, thank you for everything you do. With the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, we must do everything we can to take care of society’s most vulnerable. I urge you to support the Legislature’s budget and our approach to protecting the most vulnerable Californians.

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Assemblyman Jim Frazier is a Democrat who represents Assembly District 11, in Solano, Contra Costa and Sacramento counties, Jim.Frazier@asm.ca.gov. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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