California's new budget

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Wally Pearce

Winters Elder Day Council

Not sure if you’ve been watching or reading the news of late but we have a finalized budget and its good news for some of the older adults. The California Legislature and Governor Newsom have finalized the 2019-20 California budget, which we are excited to report includes several new or expanded investments for programs that serve older adults. These new investments, coupled with the Governor’s executive order directing California to create a Master Plan for Aging, mark a strong beginning for the new Governor’s term.

Most significantly, this year’s budget finally eliminated the senior penalty in the Medi-Cal program. Beginning no sooner than January 1, 2020, California will increase the Aged and Disabled Medi-Cal income eligibility limit to 138% FPL to match that of other Medi-Cal programs. This change will mean approximately 27,000 more seniors and people with disabilities will be eligible for free Medi-Cal. The budget contains $124.9 million in ongoing funding, including $62.4 million in the General Fund as well as trailer bill language to enact the expansion.

This is a big win for low-income older adults in California, but there were two important areas of need the budget did not address. On the health side, while the budget expanded Medi-Cal for undocumented younger adults, it did not go so far as to expand coverage for older adults who are in critical need of health care services. On the economic security side, the budget failed to restore recession era cuts to the State Supplementary Program (SSP), which is the state-funded supplement to the federal SSI benefit. This cut dropped many older Californians into poverty, where they have remained. Justice in Aging will continue pushing to finally restore the SSP and lift all seniors in California out of poverty.

Here’s the good news in the budget:

Health Care and Long-Term Services and Supports

·         Restores the 7% IHSS Reduction through December 31, 2021—The budget restores the 7% IHSS cuts enacted several years ago during the recession. Although we are encouraged that there is funding for the next two and a half years, we will continue to work for a permanent restoration of these harmful cuts.

·         Temporarily Restores Optional Medi-Cal Benefits for Two Years—Beginning January 1, 2020, optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes will be covered Medi-Cal benefits for the first time since 2009.These services will be suspended on December 31, 2021.

·         Codifies the Electronic Visit Verification Protections—Last year, California agreed to a set of consumer protections related to the federal Electronic Visit Verification requirements for the In-Home Supportive Services program and included those in the budget bill. This year, California took the next step and codified those protections.

·         Increases provider payment rates for the Multipurpose Senior Services Program—The budget allocates $14.8 million for supplemental rate payments to MSSP providers over a three-year period.

·         Increases reimbursement rates for the Community-Based Adult Services Program—The budget allocates $13.7 million ongoing to increase CBAS reimbursement rates.

·         Increases funding for the Caregiver Resource Centers ($30 million); Senior Nutrition Programs ($17.5 million); Long-Term Care Ombudsman ($5.2 million);

·         Adult Protective Services ($5.75 million over three years); and Alzheimer’s Research and the Alzheimer’s Prevention and Preparedness Task Force ($3 million).

·         Provides funding to conduct an actuarial study on long-term care insurance options ($1 million).

Economic Security

·         SSI Cash-Out—The budget makes permanent the “hold harmless” programs created as part of last year’s repeal of SSI cash-out, which was the policy that barred SSI recipients from receiving CalFresh food assistance.

·         SSI Advocacy—The budget provides $25 million in ongoing funding for the Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP), which provides matching funds to counties for comprehensive services including housing support to people who are likely eligible for SSI while they apply for disability benefits.

·         Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—The budget significantly boosts the value of California’s EITC for low wage workers by including workers earning the $15 an hour minimum wage in 2022 and providing a $1,000 credit to families with children under age 6. Unfortunately, the EITC still does not include all working taxpayers, as low wage workers who use an ITIN to file their returns continue to be excluded.

·         Equal Access Fund—The budget provides an additional $20 million for the Equal Access Fund to assist tenants with evictions and related housing needs, including people with disabilities and older adults.

·         Homelessness—The budget provides $650 million in one-time funds to counties and Continuums of Care. The funding can be used for services including rental assistance, rental subsidies, rapid rehousing, and navigation centers and shelters.

The budget also includes other investments that will likely help older adults. In the health care arena, increased premium subsidies for private insurance purchased through Covered California will help low-income adults 50-64, and additional housing and mental health funding connected to the Whole Person Care pilot will benefit all Medi-Cal beneficiaries with mental health conditions and those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The 2019-20 budget takes much-needed steps to reduce poverty in California and provides momentum for a Master Plan for Aging that will address the pressing challenges that aging Californians face in trying to meet their basic needs. We look forward to working with the legislature and Governor during next year’s budget and on the Master Plan to ensure that we are making the investments now to meet the needs of older adults in California today and for generations to come.

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