Heartened by the recovering economy and a successful ballot initiative
to raise taxes, Democrats and social service advocates entered into budget
exercises at the Capitol this spring expecting this to be a time of restoration.
After years of spending cuts, they cheered the budget Gov. Jerry Brown signed Thursday for its promise to expand Medi-Cal coverage to nearly 1 million low-income Californians under the federal health care overhaul in the upcoming fiscal year, and to more than 1.6 million Californians by 2015.
The $96.3 billion spending plan also includes more money for welfare, dental and mental health programs for some of California's poorest and neediest residents.
Yet funding for many of these programs remains less than Democrats and service providers hoped, and much of it will not materialize for months after the new budget year starts Monday.
"Obviously, a year in which we're going to expand (Medi-Cal) coverage to 1 million people is going to be more positive than negative," said Anthony Wright, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Health Access California.
But Wright's organization has estimated the state cut more than $15 billion in health and human services during the recession.
"If you look at what was restored," Wright said, "it was probably less than $1 billion overall."
In a signing ceremony at the Capitol on Thursday, Brown proclaimed the budget's enactment a "momentous occasion."
"We are investing in significant programs," the Democratic governor said. "It's about education, and it's about health -- things the people of California care most about."
In addition to the health care expansion and shifting more education money to poor and English-learning students, the budget includes about $51 million for a 5 percent increase in monthly grants under California's welfare-to-work program, CalWORKs, and partial restoration of funding for dental care for poor adults.
Neither of those funding increases will take effect immediately, however. Increased CalWORKs grants will come in March 2014, and preventive adult dental benefits won't be available until May 1.
It won't be until the 2014-15 budget year that the state makes available another program included in the budget, a scholarship to offset tuition and fees at public universities and community colleges by as much as 40 percent for students whose families earn less than $150,000.
"Of course it's not enough," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "But there's no way we could make up for five, six years of devastating cuts in one year."
He said, "This is a start, and it's a very good start."
Some increased funding will take effect immediately. Addressing one of Steinberg's priorities, the budget includes $206 million to create 25 mobile crisis support teams and at least 2,000 beds in local treatment centers to help people with mental illnesses.
The funding will help local agencies hire triage workers to arrange services for the mentally ill.
"As a result of that particular proposal," Steinberg said, "thousands of people, over time, who are ending up in emergency rooms and jails or other the streets, are going to get help."
He said the enactment of a balanced budget is significant in that it "represents fiscal health," while in the social services "there are a lot of things to
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