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California Governor Criticized for Proposal to Eliminate Health Benefit for Some Disabled Immigrants

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed he would not fix the state’s budget deficit by taking away health insurance from low-income adults living in the country without legal permission, calling the state’s policy “something I believe in.”

But Newsom would eliminate an important health benefit for some low-income immigrants with disabilities, angering his allies who are now accusing the second-term governor of breaking his word.

California was one of the first states to give free health insurance to all low-income adults regardless of their immigration status. The multibillion-dollar project, completed in January, made more than 1 million people eligible for California’s Medicaid program, including many people who had never before had health insurance.

Now, just five months later and with California facing an estimated $45 billion deficit, Newsom wants the state to stop paying for caregivers to come to the homes of some disabled people — who are living in the country without legal permission — to help them with cooking, cleaning and other tasks so they can stay out of nursing homes. Everyone else would keep that benefit.

The Newsom administration says this would save about $94 million and impact fewer than 3,000 people out of the more than 15 million who are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal. But eliminating the benefit would also keep thousands more from becoming eligible in the future.

Neswom’s proposal “is a betrayal,” said David Kane, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Ronald Coleman Baeza, managing policy director for California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, called it “indefensible” and compared the proposal to a notorious ballot proposition from the 1990s that sought to bar immigrants from accessing government assistance programs.

“I think it could move us back in the sense of treating undocumented as different,” said state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles who has pushed for the Medicaid expansion for years.

Newsom’s proposal for immigrants would impact a benefit known as in-home supportive services that’s becoming more expensive for the state to provide. The average hourly wage for caregivers has gone up 6% since 2014. And starting this year, with some emergency federal funding provided during the pandemic expired, there have been cost increases of about $200 million.

Once people qualify for the program, they get to hire their own caregiver. It’s often a relative, meaning the program often acts as financial assistance for families.

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