Hearing Focuses on CalFresh and Food Insecurity in California

March 11, 2014

At a joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Human Services Committees today, March 11, at 1:30 p.m. in Capitol Room 437, invited testimony from the California Budget Project will highlight just how prevalent food insecurity is in California and the toll that food insecurity can take on children and families.

Food insecurity occurs when families lack the available means to obtain enough nutritious food to thrive, which means they face hunger or the threat of hunger. This is due to a lack of money and other resources. In California, more than one in seven households were food insecure in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. Only 11 states have a larger share of households experiencing food insecurity than does California. The percentage of food-insecure households in our state has increased by 44 percent since 2006, and has remained fairly constant since 2008. This shows that the recovery from the Great Recession has not reached many low-income Californians.

Food insecurity and poverty often go hand-in-hand, but public policies can help address these problems. According to the Public Policy Institute of California’s California Poverty Measure, CalFresh and CalWORKs lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty in 2011. Taking measures to boost CalFresh participation and to increase the CalWORKs grant would go far in reducing food insecurity in California. These are among the issues that the joint hearing will take up today.

— Kristin Schumacher

State Spending Reflects Californians’ Priorities

July 24, 2012

Public opinion polling shows that Californians strongly support state spending for education and health and human services, but are less enthusiastic about spending on state prisons, also known as corrections. Solid majorities of the state’s residents, for example, say they are willing to pay higher taxes to support public schools, higher education, and health and human services in order to help close the budget gap, according to a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in May. In contrast, only about one out of six Californians (17 percent) said they would pay higher taxes to support prisons.

The 2012-13 spending plan signed into law by Governor Brown last month reflects – for the most part – these priorities. More than 50 cents out of every General Fund dollar supports public schools, colleges, and universities, and nearly 30 cents out of every dollar goes to health and human services, including health care and cash assistance for low-income children and seniors. In other words, well over three-quarters of the state budget, roughly 81 cents out of every state dollar, goes to areas that Californians say are their top priorities.

The share of state spending allocated to corrections – just under 10 cents out of every state dollar in 2012-13 – is down compared to 2010-11, but remains higher than many Californians might prefer. Prisons’ share of the state budget, however, is projected to drop further in the coming years, to less than 8 cents out of every state dollar. This decline is due to the recent transfer, or “”realignment,” of responsibility for low-level offenders from the state to the counties, which has begun to shrink the prison population and to move the state toward compliance with a US Supreme Court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

While rarely addressed in public opinion surveys, the remainder of the budget – roughly 9 cents out of every state dollar in 2012-13 – supports veterans services, wildland fire control, environmental protection, and other key public services. This part of the budget also funds the institutions that comprise the state’s system of governance, such as the courts, the Department of Justice, and the Governor’s Office.

Overall, state spending tracks closely with Californians’ priorities and supports the key public structures and services that are necessary for a strong economy and a high quality of life.

— Scott Graves

Clearing Up Some Confusion About the Governor’s Proposed Tax Initiative

June 20, 2012

By now, many Californians are well aware that Governor Jerry Brown is seeking to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that would ask voters to temporarily boost sales and income taxes, with the increase primarily affecting the wealthiest Californians. What is less well known is that the Governor’s measure is also the keystone of the state’s effort to permanently transfer – or “realign” – several public safety, health, and human services programs, along with a dedicated source of funding, to the counties, a process that began last year. In particular, the Legislature redirected to counties two existing revenue streams – portions of the state sales tax and the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) – that are intended to flow to counties indefinitely in order cover the cost of the realigned programs. Counties, however, hoped for greater certainty than a change to state law can provide. The Governor’s initiative would address that concern by placing the revenue shift in the state Constitution, thereby guaranteeing that the sales tax and VLF dollars set aside for realignment will continue to flow for that purpose. The measure would also provide key legal protections for both the state and the counties as realignment rolls out, as we explain in our recent report.

Unfortunately, there appears to be some confusion about the relationship between the realignment provisions and the temporary taxes in the Governor’s measure. A recent post on Prop Zero, for example, claims that “much of the tax revenues [the Governor] would raise in his measure go to providing funding to locals for his realignment plans.” The post further argues that the Governor’s measure makes “the mistake of establishing a permanent change in governance … with temporary taxes.” This analysis is off the mark. As explained above, the Governor’s measure would place in the state Constitution the current, ongoing revenues that were already shifted to counties as part of last year’s realignment. In other words, the measure would combine a permanent change in governance with a permanent source of funding for counties’ new responsibilities. In contrast, the Governor’s proposed temporary tax increase has nothing to do with realignment. Instead, it would raise revenues in order to help balance the budget and stabilize the state’s fiscal situation.

In short, the Governor’s initiative encompasses two separate sets of revenues with different purposes and time frames – and never the twain shall meet.

– Scott Graves

New CBP Report Looks at Realignment, Which Has Nothing To Do With Your Car

June 8, 2012

For most Californians, the word “realignment” probably brings to mind something a mechanic does to keep their cars from pulling to one side or the other. In fact, it refers to a major policy shift the Legislature initiated last year: the transfer of several public safety, health, and human services programs – along with a dedicated source of funding – from the state to the counties beginning in 2011-12, as we explain in our new report. The public safety side of realignment has gotten the most media attention, and for good reason. Counties’ new responsibilities for managing, supervising, and rehabilitating “low-level” offenders and parolees will transform the state’s criminal justice system over the next several years as well as bring down state spending on prisons. Nonetheless, a little-known fact about realignment is that nearly two-thirds of the dollars – $3.9 billion out of $5.9 billion in 2012-13 – support health and human services programs, including Child Welfare Services, Foster Care, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services.

While realignment is intended to be permanent, the current framework was adopted with the understanding that the Legislature and voters would need to finalize the details this year. That’s why state lawmakers and Governor Brown are now working on a long-term framework that is likely to be included in the final 2012-13 budget agreement. It’s also why the Governor has proposed a ballot measure for November 2012 that would place key realignment provisions in the state Constitution in order to ensure that counties will receive ongoing funding as well as to provide counties and the state with protections against certain unanticipated costs. These protections, along with the legislation currently under consideration, are central to building a long-term framework for realignment in 2012 and beyond.

– Scott Graves

Getting Food Assistance to Eligible Families: A Chance for Another Step Forward

April 23, 2012

CalFresh is an integral part of our state’s safety net for low-income families. The program provides food assistance – funded entirely by the federal government – to nearly 4 million Californians, more than three-fifths of whom are children. Yet despite the importance of this program, California ranks last among states in enrolling eligible individuals. In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, only 53 percent of eligible Californians participated in CalFresh.

In recent years, the Legislature has taken a number of steps to help boost participation, but more can be done. A bill currently moving through the Assembly, AB 1560 (Fuentes), would take another big step forward by linking CalFresh and Medi-Cal, which provides health care services to more than 7 million low-income Californians. Many Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal – more than 1 million, according to some estimates – are eligible for CalFresh, but do not participate. AB 1560 would allow counties to use information that families already provided when they applied for Medi-Cal to help enroll those families in CalFresh. By connecting CalFresh and Medi-Cal and simplifying the enrollment process, AB 1560, which will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, could help boost the number of families receiving food assistance at a time when many California families continue to struggle in the wake of the Great Recession.

— Scott Graves and Sam Sellers