By Sunita Sohrabji/EMS Contributing Editor
California Governor Gavin Newsom rolled out the 2021-22 state budget Jan. 8, a $227 billion proposal which prioritizes vaccinations, re-opening schools safely, support for small businesses, and direct cash payments for low-income people.
“Our budget reflects the realities of a pandemic-induced recession which has exacerbated decades-long inequalities,” said Newsom. “Income disparities have come to the fore, and our budget addresses those disparities.” He noted that — even amid the pandemic — the state’s wealthy residents and blue-chip companies have thrived, bringing in unexpected revenue to the state’s coffers.
“Folks at the top are doing pretty damn well. But I don’t begrudge that success, I admire and respect it,” he said, adding that the budget reflects the need to re-calibrate the additional revenue into support for residents of the state hardest hit by the pandemic.
Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor has proposed $372 million for vaccine distribution. Newsom noted that California currently has 2.5 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and will have delivered more than 1 million shots by Jan. 15. The state will roll out in-language PSAs Jan. 10 to inform diverse audiences about the benefits of getting vaccinated and how to do so.
Another $473 million has been set aside for contact tracing and testing.
$575 million has been proposed to help small businesses recover via grants of $5,000 to $25,000: small business owners can learn more about the program and apply online at covid19.ca.gov. Applications are due by Jan. 13.
Earlier in the week, the Governor rolled out the “Golden State Stimulus” proposal, a $5 billion plan to distribute $600 cash payments to 4 million low-income residents of the state using the architecture of the California Earned Income Tax Credit program. State lawmakers have already called for direct payments to be expanded, stating that $600 is too small a sum to support those who have lost their incomes amid the pandemic.
The state also plans to distribute $2.6 billion to renters to help with past-due rent, but Newsom said the state had not yet established a framework for how the funds would be distributed.
Newsom said one of his top priorities was safely opening schools as soon as possible, and has earmarked $90 billion for K-14 education, the highest amount in state history. $2 billion of that amount is for immediate action in returning students to in-person education. An additional $4.6 billion is budgeted to expand summer school, and before and after-school programs, reflecting the reality of the state’s parents who are now working longer hours to sustain their households. Newsom said a greater level of funding has been set aside for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth.
“We have our eye on equality. Kids are falling through the cracks,” he said.
$400 million has been earmarked for Early Childhood Education, and $1.5 billion has been set aside for special education. Newsom noted that he was a special education student.
Another $786 million has been budgeted for UCs and CSUs: the former will receive $425 million, while the latter will receive $361 million. Of that amount, $100 million has been set aside to meet students’ basic needs such as food and housing, and another $30 million is dedicated to on-campus mental health programs. $250 million will support an expansion of the state’s college financial aid programs. The governor fervently stated his opposition to tuition increases.
Despite the increased investment in education, no mention was made of improving the infrastructure for low-income and rural children who may not be able to immediately return to the classroom but lack the basic tools — laptops and high-speed internet — to successfully participate in online learning.
The budget also addressed the state’s housing and homelessness crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Currently, more than 151,000 people live on the streets of the state, or in temporary shelters. Newsom noted the success of the $846 million Project Homekey program, which bought up 94 motels and hotels and converted them into permanent housing for 6,000 unsheltered individuals. The new budget adds an additional $1.75 billion to purchase additional motels and hotels and to add onsite support services for mental health and substance abuse.
The governor also budgeted $1.1 billion to expand the state’s health care infrastructure, including the MediCal program. Critically, however, California’s 24,000 undocumented seniors will still be ineligible for enrollment. Newsom said during a news briefing that he was hesitant to commit $3 billion a year to expanding healthcare for undocumented seniors, despite a $34 billion budget surplus this year.
The governor’s press conference can be heard here: https://bit.ly/3ovvo9R.