California state budget: What Gov. Brown's signature means for Los Angeles's poor

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California state budget late Wednesday, after legislators hustled to pass dozens of budget-related bills to meet the governor’s midnight deadline for signing the plan. While the votes went down, lobbyists packed the capitol corridors in Sacramento. But how did people who can’t afford lobbyists fare in this year’s budget?

In January, Gov. Brown proposed slashing $1 billion from CalWorks by cutting the length of California’s Welfare to Work assistance from four years to two. Democrats responded that the cuts would force families into the streets. The majority party struck a deal to shorten the time some families may stay on assistance that would also allow counties to extend benefits for people with disabilities, domestic violence victims and people who live in high unemployment areas.

Los Angeles Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell recalled testimony from CalWorks recipients before she voted for the compromise plan.

"A teenager from San Diego spoke about how hard his mom works," Mitchell said. "Spending five hours a day on the bus getting the kids to school and herself to work at a grocery store. He says she goes without food when there’s no money. 'It’s a hard job,' he said. 'Our families are not a waste of money.'"

Half a million low-income families rely on CalWorks assistance. About a third of them live in Los Angeles County.

Democrats traded some cuts to CalWorks for the elimination of the Healthy Families program. They plan to shift nearly a million children in the state’s low-cost health care program to Medi-Cal. While that may not cost families more in insurance premiums, they could have trouble finding health care providers in the state’s smaller, rural counties.

"We’re really putting children at risk here," said state Senator Anthony Cannella. "We’re taking them out of a program that works and then putting them into a program that clearly doesn’t work."

The Republican lawmaker said the change will displace thousands of children in his district that stretches from Modesto to Merced.

"If you think the Medi-Cal program will be sufficient for these children, you’re kidding yourself," he continued. "It’s a system that’s currently overworked and understaffed and anybody you ask will say that."

This year’s budget also cuts state-subsidized child care by 8 percent. Low-income parents depend on that day care to be able to work. The parents of 10,000 children will lose that help.

For now, state support for public education escaped major budget hits. But school districts could sustain $5 billion in cuts if California voters reject the governor’s initiative to raise taxes in November.

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