Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom released his May revision to the state’s proposed 2020-21 budget. The Latino Community Foundation understands the extraordinary fiscal challenges our state is facing with a $54 billion deficit and an anticipated pandemic-induced economic recession in the year ahead.
Yet this is not the time to cut critical programs and retract commitments intended to protect the most vulnerable populations in California. Latinos—from our children to our seniors—have historically been one of the most underinvested groups in our state. The persistent income, wealth, education, and health inequities that exist as a result of lack of political will and inaction have made it possible for this current public health and economic crisis to deal a devastating blow on this population.
Latinos, undocumented workers, and low-income families are at the frontlines working essential jobs. They are forced to choose putting their lives at risk or risk losing their income and means to feed their families. As of today, Latinos comprise 40% of the population, but 53% of positive cases. In places like the Mission District in San Francisco, Latinos accounted for more than 95% of the positive cases.
The urgency of this moment requires that our elected officials in Sacramento continue leading with moral clarity and courage. Governor Newsom’s revised budget gives us cause for concern that we are headed in the wrong direction.
In the May revision, we fail as a state to reflect that the people most impacted by this pandemic were already the ones carrying the burden of decades of dis-investments. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the last recession when we failed to protect the most marginalized communities and deepened inequities in our state. If we go down this path, California may lock itself in as the most inequitable state in our Union.
Below are several of the changes we are following in the Governor’s revised budget:
Public Education Cuts
School districts are facing $6.5 billion in cuts. Latino youth make up 54% of California’s K-12 student population and were already more likely than other demographic group to attend high-poverty schools. These deep cuts will devastate schools already strapped for cash. The Newsom administration can and must work with Congress to ensure it receives federal relief to fill the gaps in education funding.
Healthcare for Undocumented Seniors
The governor withdrew his proposal to expand Medi-Cal access to low-income undocumented seniors. Expediting health coverage to this population could help reduce the spread of the virus. Latinos are dying of health-related complications caused by COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. What’s worse is more than half of the California’s uninsured population is Latino. Although immigration status is not a barrier seeking care among those presenting symptoms of the virus, access to critical tests remain uneven, thus making long-term preventative care and treatment vital.
Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit
Currently, immigrants that file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) do not qualify for the California Earned Income Tax Credit. Under this revised budget, that will continue to be the case. If lawmakers modified this tax credit eligibility to include all taxpayers using an ITIN, 388,000 families would see a boost in their income. About 1 in 3 undocumented workers in California is employed in an industry highly affected by business closures.
COVID-19 Contact Tracing
To support public health departments who need to conduct a robust public health response to COVID-19, additional state funds are needed beyond the $1.3B from the CARES Act. As California prepares to train thousands of contact tracers to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the budget should provide greater investments to ensure that these tracers are culturally competent and come from the community most impacted by COVID-19.
One opportunity worth considering is a partnership between California’s Department of Public Health and California’s Community Colleges, which serve over 900,000 Latinos students statewide and train a substantial share of the state’s health care workforce. These students can serve as trusted contact tracers in hard-to-reach communities, find employment and help fill a critical public health need. Leaving this critical work up to the counties to enact a plan and deploy tracers will build on existing regional inequities, as 40 of 58 counties in California barely have the resources to provide critical public health services as it stands.
Helping Latino Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs
The governor proposes to augment the small business guarantee program by $50 million for a total increase of $100 million to fill gaps in federal assistance. The budget revise also maintains a $10 million General Fund investment for the Social Entrepreneurs for Economic Development initiative, providing entrepreneurial training for individuals, including those who are undocumented.
California’s 800,000 Latino-owned businesses make up nearly one-quarter of all small businesses in the state, generating an average of $100 billion in annual sales. The Newsom administration should work with regional economic development funds, cooperative nonprofits, and community foundations that have expertise working with immigrant and Latino-owned small businesses to make sure they get access to much-needed relief.
There is Still Time to Act!
Fixing the social safety net during the upcoming budget negotiations, and investing in communities most impact by the public health crisis, will not only help ensure that Latino families can weather the economic fallout created by the pandemic—it will help ensure California as a whole is on its way to a speedy health and economic recovery.
Jacqueline Martinez Garcel is the CEO of the Latino Community Foundation