California Has Work Ahead
Investing in the Health and Economic Well-Being of Every Californian Can’t Wait
As California and our country move forward to tackle the challenges facing our communities and make life better for our families and neighbors, the California Budget & Policy Center continues our commitment to advancing public policies that improve the lives of Californians who have been blocked from sharing in the state’s prosperity.
We recognize a healthy and vibrant democracy and economy, and brighter California is possible when we remove the policy barriers blocking Californians in low- and middle-income households, as well as Asian, Black, Latinx, and Pacific-Islander Californians and other Californians of color from fully participating in the state’s economic, social, and political life.
And California has work ahead.
Policy priorities to lead our state forward must include:
Health Care. Millions of Californians gained health coverage thanks to our state’s robust implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the $25 billion in federal funding tied to the ACA that California receives each year. Additional federal action is needed to make health coverage even more accessible and affordable, but state leaders can’t sit on the sidelines waiting for Congress to act or for the US Supreme Court to rule on the ACA. As the pandemic sickens thousands and hits Black and Latinx households particularly hard, we need state policymakers to strengthen our health care system, such as by providing comprehensive health care to Californians still left out of health care coverage and who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 health risks — including undocumented seniors.
Public Health & Overcoming the COVID-19 Pandemic. The state must prioritize public health and the COVID-19 pandemic for the health, social, and economic well-being of every Californian, and to achieve a meaningful and sustained economic recovery. Over 930,000 Californians have tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 18,000 have died eight months into the pandemic. New cases have recently increased after the number of cases had remained steady for several weeks — a sign that the pandemic is far from over for California. And while COVID-19 affects people of all ages and backgrounds, it has become abundantly clear that the virus is disproportionately harming communities of color, who are at an increased risk of severe illness and even death due to long-standing inequities. The state can do more to contain and mitigate the virus. Additional efforts include bolstering contact tracing efforts and improving the state’s testing capacity and turnaround time for results. Addressing the public health crisis is fundamental to solving the economic crisis — and requires significant resources. State and federal policymakers must work together to provide the resources and coordination needed to overcome the virus and to ensure that public health systems are robust to combat against future outbreaks before they sicken and kill thousands of Californians, particularly Black and Latinx people.
Economic Security. It’s essential that our nation’s leaders provide significantly more economic relief to our communities right away. We are still deep into the worst recession in generations, and this crisis continues to hit Asian, Black, Latinx, and other Californians of color much harder than white Californians. Yet Congress has let economic relief measures run out and failed to provide any additional support to households for seven months. That means the financial situation for millions of people has gotten worse, with many families unsure where their next meal is going to come from or how they’re going to pay next month’s rent. Federal lawmakers’ top priorities coming out of the elections should include reinstating the additional $600-per-week unemployment benefits that expired in July, extending beyond the end of this year unemployment assistance for workers excluded from regular benefits, and providing significant aid to state and local governments to prevent additional layoffs and avoid deep cuts to education, health care, and other critical services. California’s leaders should aim to fill in support wherever federal economic relief measures fall short. For example, if federal lawmakers continue to exclude undocumented immigrants and their families from economic aid, state lawmakers should target financial assistance to these Californians and their families.
Housing. Access to a safe affordable home is crucial for every Californian — crisis or not. The pandemic and recession have shown us once again that the health and safety of millions of Californians is at risk every day because of housing costs. We need state leaders to meet the urgent housing needs of Californians who have lost jobs during the current recession, especially as eviction moratoria expire and back rent comes due, and to help those who are experiencing homelessness and therefore face severe risks from COVID-19. We also need leaders to address California’s broader housing crisis by advancing policies that directly reduce families’ and individuals’ housing costs, protect tenants from unfair evictions or rent increases, and increase the supply of affordable housing. Ensuring that all Californians have safe and stable housing is vitally important for health and public health now, while the pandemic is ongoing. An equitable recovery in California also requires addressing our long-standing housing affordability crisis to ensure that all Californians can have stable and affordable homes moving forward, especially Californians with low incomes, renters, and Black, Latinx, and other Californians of color, who were hit hardest by unaffordable housing costs even before the current recession.
Food. Right now, many families do not have enough food on the table. This problem is particularly acute for Latinx and Black families in California, who have always struggled to afford enough food due to historic and ongoing racial discrimination. With more than 20% of Black and Latinx children in California not having enough to eat, state and federal policymakers must ensure families have the resources they need to feed their families. State policymakers must maintain funding support for food banks, which are on the frontlines of the pandemic, providing critical food resources to families. Another priority is to increase the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit, known as CalFresh in California, by at least 15%. This would boost benefits by about $25 per person per month. Federal policymakers should also expand food assistance to immigrants who are excluded from SNAP. Policymakers must ensure no child or family agonizes over having enough food to eat.
Child Care. During this unprecedented health and economic crisis, many child care providers in California have stepped up to the challenge of providing early learning and care and distance learning support for families — particularly for children with parents who are essential workers. While the state and federal government have both provided emergency funding to support child care providers, total support falls far short of the estimated level necessary to sustain this critical workforce. Meanwhile, family budgets are even more strained due to lost jobs and wages, and without access to safe and affordable child care, many California families may not be able to return to work. It is long past time that federal policymakers get serious about providing substantial relief to keep this workforce and sector afloat through this recession. Supporting child care in California is critical to helping providers survive the COVID-19 crisis, supporting parents who have no choice but to work outside the home, and aiding the state’s economic recovery.
Education. The pandemic has created significant challenges for California’s students bringing into greater focus historic inequities faced by English learners and students from low-income families. Even for those students who have computers and reliable internet connections, remote learning hampers educational opportunities. And many students in low-income households lack even the basic technology to access teachers and curricula. At the same time that students and schools need additional resources to meet challenges presented by the pandemic, the state is reducing its spending and delaying payments to K-12 schools and community colleges. These cuts and deferrals will disproportionately affect schools that serve larger shares of Black and Latinx students, English learners, and those who experience economic hardship. Policymakers must invest in the quality education that every student deserves and provide them opportunities to succeed no matter what California K-12 school, college, or university they attend.
Paid Time Off. Workers should not have to choose between paying the bills and caring for their health or the health of a family member. The United States lags behind other countries in the world in ensuring workers have access to paid time off to care for themselves or their families. Federal policymakers took temporary action to address workers’ lack of paid time off by requiring employers to provide both paid sick days and paid leave through December 31, 2020, but limits in the federal law mean that a large share of workers are not eligible. In California, combined with the state’s existing paid family and medical leave laws, many workers likely have access to some kind of paid time off during this public health emergency to care for themselves or their families. However, cases of COVID-19 are at an all-time high with no signs of slowing down. Federal policy makers should — at minimum — extend the temporary paid time off provisions. To fill the gaps, state policymakers should increase the minimum required number of paid sick days provided by all employers, which is currently just three days or 24 hours, to the equivalent of two weeks during a public health emergency and seven days when not in a public health emergency. More Californians must be able to use paid time off in their times of need.
Criminal Justice. California has been systematically dismantling the harsh, one-size-fits-all sentencing laws that led to mass incarceration of Californians beginning in the 1970s. State-level reforms have focused on reducing the prison population, promoting more effective pathways to rehabilitation, and addressing the disparate impacts of criminal justice policies on people of color, and particularly Black and Latinx communities. With these reforms, both the prison population and crime rates are down substantially, showing that our state’s efforts to reduce mass incarceration, while far from complete, are working. However, state policymakers must do more to reduce incarceration, particularly given the impact of the pandemic on incarcerated adults, prison staff, families, and surrounding communities. This is especially important for Black and Latinx Californians and their families, who are bearing the greatest burdens of COVID-19 in prisons and in the broader community. Downsizing California’s costly prison infrastructure would free up resources that could be used for reentry assistance and other services that help promote rehabilitation, reduce poverty, and strengthen families and communities — particularly Black and Latinx communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, the recession, and generations of discrimination at the hands of the criminal justice system.
More Revenue. Many wealthy Californians have seen their wealth grow, and the profits of many large corporations are soaring, while millions of Californians are struggling to make ends meet. This was true even before the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic and recession have only exacerbated long-standing inequities that have prevented many Black, Latinx, and other Californians of color from achieving economic security and sharing in the state’s prosperity. State policymakers will need to raise significant new revenues in order to support the investments required to ensure all Californians have access to health care, safe and affordable housing, child care, a quality education, and the means to put food on the table. And to achieve these shared values for California, state policymakers should ask those individuals and businesses that have the most resources to contribute the most to support a broadly-shared recovery. Policymakers can start by taking a hard look at the more than $60 billion the state spends each year on tax breaks that primarily benefit wealthier Californians and large businesses. They can also ask more of profitable corporations, which now pay less than half of what they paid in state taxes in the early 1980s as a share of their income. And our state leaders can explore opportunities to tap into the significant stock of wealth in the state that is highly concentrated in the hands of a privileged few.
Now it is the time for our state too to move forward on the priorities we know are essential for the health and well-being of every Californian now — comprehensive health care, housing affordability, economic support, and tackling ongoing COVID-19 challenges across our communities. And it’s time for California leaders to provide greater state support, reduce income inequality, and produce the revenues needed to make significant public investment in California’s future.
Building a healthy and vibrant democracy and economy isn’t about one day or even one election. It is about the belief that government can and should work to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities every day of the year.
Californians are ready, and the Budget Center is ready, for our state to lead us forward.