Critics say Republican budget threatens Californians' health

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As Congress works to pass a budget by the end of the month, advocates for the poor warn Republicans' proposed cuts to safety-net programs could hurt Californians' health. 

The California Budget and Policy Center has crunched the numbers in the House Budget Committee's proposed budget. The Center says it would mean a $2 billion a year hit to CalFresh – formerly known as food stamps.

"Why would we cut money for food stamps? Why would we cut money for public housing when those are two of the biggest things that impact somebody’s state of health?" asked John Baackes, CEO of LA Care—a large provider of Medi-Cal services in the county.

Cuts to safety net programs could mean a greater need for medical services—and that would increase health care costs, he said.

"There’s a whole range of other services that children, families, and individuals in general need to have access to, to ensure that they lead healthy and productive lives," said Scott Graves, director of research for the Budget and Policy Center.

He pointed to what public health researchers call the social determinants of health.

"Many of the cuts that are proposed at the federal level essentially amount to massive cost shifts from the federal government down to the states, putting very difficult decisions at the level of state capitals," said Graves.

It would be a major challenge for California to take on a greater share of what he calls "critical programs," he said.

Conservatives argue that the Republican proposals are designed to move people from government assistance to self-sufficiency.

"I think it’s very sad that we have a third of our population on a government program, like Medicaid/ Medi-Cal," said Sally Pipes, president of the Pacific Research Institute.

The Trump administration has called for work requirements for the low-income health care program, and the House Republicans' budget proposes similar requirements for food assistance.

Pipes agrees with that approach.

"I just worry that there are people on these entitlement programs that shouldn’t be," she said.

In California, just over one-third of CalFresh recipients work low-wage jobs.

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