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Legislature Set to Adjourn without Voting on Wealth-Tax Proposals

“Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the bills would have raised an estimated $23 billion, funds he said are needed to prevent widespread suffering, on top of the chaos already wrought by the pandemic.

“These matters would prevent devastating cuts to things like the K-12 system, to child care, Medi-Cal benefits, in-home supportive services, welfare,” Herald said. “Recessions often cause us to cut when we probably need to be paying out the benefits at the highest level.”

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In the midst of the pandemic, California continues to strip assets from elders with low incomes in exchange for health care.

A California bill to fix the Medi-Cal assets test (AB 683 – Carrillo), jointly sponsored by Justice in Aging and Western Center, will not move forward this year.

The Medi-Cal assets rule limits the amount of assets an individual can have to $2,000, or $3,000 for a couple. While it does have exceptions (a home and one car), it still limits how much Californians can save to take care of themselves if they need help from Medi-Cal. Most Medi-Cal recipients don’t know about the exceptions, and don’t have access to financial advice to help save as allowed by the rule.

The real kicker, though, is that the assets test only applies to people over age 65 and some people with disabilities. How’s that for equity?

The test is not just some vague rule that only health policy advocates worry about. It’s an outdated measure of whether someone deserves health care that is even more strikingly anachronistic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what does this look like in the real lives of Medi-Cal recipients?

Alfred Calderón, 64, from Long Beach has been paraplegic since 1973. He’s been dealing with the ins and outs of both Medicare and Medi-Cal for some time since he is eligible for both programs. Medi-Cal is supposed to pick up where Medicare leaves off to cover premiums and high-cost sharing, which he can’t afford.

Like many Californians, Alfred’s family is spread out. His aging father lives on the other side of Big Bear, and his nieces and nephews live on the Pala reservation outside of San Diego. The only way for him to get around to visit family and friends is with a special van outfitted to meet his needs, but it’s impossible to save enough to buy such a van, since it would cost more than Medi-Cal allows Alfred to have as long as he wants to keep his health care. He says it’s hard to stay in community when there’s no way to visit his people.

Alfred is also unable to save for things like a comfortable bed, which would be helpful given his disability and age. While Medi-Cal pays for a basic hospital-type bed if medically necessary, he can’t save money for a bed that will ensure he can actually rest.

Alfred says he and his friends on Medi-Cal, “feel indentured – we need to ask for permission on how to live our lives.”

He’s right. While we have no problem with pandemic profiteering by California’s billionaires — who can’t possibly need another house, car, or luxury bed with personalized settings, the California public health care program is preventing Alfred from seeing people he cares about and getting a decent night’s sleep.

Beyond the comforts that make life feel more human and connected, the inability to save also puts many Medi-Cal recipients at risk of homelessness. When financial disaster happens – a layoff, an eviction, the car you need for your job breaks down, or the hot water heater needs replacing, a $2,000 cap on assets can make it impossible to bounce back.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 has shown just how easy it is for finances to be wiped out in the face of the unexpected. What’s worse, the Medi-Cal assets test rule targets those most at risk of COVID-19: elders with low incomes and people with disabilities who are also disproportionately people of color.

We need state policy that sets people up for success and treats them with the dignity that all Californians deserve. AB 683 would have corrected the most egregious parts of the Medi-Cal assets test: the low asset cap that hasn’t been updated since 1989, and the wonky rules only policy experts can explain.

But since the state won’t appropriately tax the rich, state leadership says we can’t afford to change these ridiculous rules – even though legislators across party lines agree it’s bad policy. So reports on health disparities and economic insecurity will keep coming, even when we know what fixes would make a difference. It is absolutely absurd that the state is stripping elders of what little assets they have to access health care, as it allows billionaires to hoard resources at unprecedented rates.

We’ll be back to get this bill through next year, but in the meantime, we hope state leaders reevaluate their priorities and actually commit to a more equitable California – rather than just saying they will.


PRESS RELEASE: Campaign across California launched to demand state leaders craft a budget for justice by taxing the privileged


Coalition challenges state leaders to stop further budget cuts and invest in communities suffering from racism, inequality, recession, and COVID-19 

Sacramento, CA – Thirteen organizations representing frontline workers, teachers, seniors, environmentalists, and advocates for racial and social justice announced a Summer campaign – Commit to Equity – to demand the governor and state lawmakers tax the privileged to fund real systemic changes that lift up communities of color and vulnerable groups. The campaign also announced a “week of action,” with a series of events in Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego to demand leaders build a budget for justice, informed by weeks of protest against racism.

As state leaders have yet to reach a final budget agreement, Commit to Equity demands they:

  • Dismantle the systemic inequities created by underfunding our communities’ needs, inequities deepened by a cuts-only budget, which disproportionately harms Black and brown people;
  • End the systemic inequity of our tax code, which gives billionaires and corporations a pass from paying their fair share;
  • Put up a plan to tax the privileged to preserve and improve schools, healthcare, and vital community services, since people need them now more than ever to endure the impact of recession and pandemic; and
  • Invest in real systemic change in communities of color.

“Budgets reflect our values, and California needs to commit today to racial justice and economic justice as our guiding lights,” said Joseph Bryant, President of SEIU Local 1021 and member of SEIU California’s Executive Board. “It starts with rejecting racially disparate cuts, but it requires much more. We need to invest in Black and brown communities and economically struggling communities and require the most privileged and wealthy in our state to contribute more.”

“In this unprecedented moment, many people are asking, ‘How can I stand up for Black lives and racial justice?,’” said Marc Philpart, Principal Coordinator of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and Managing Director at PolicyLink. “We need extraordinary investments in health, housing, education, jobs, and social services, not austerity measures or investments that diminish our communities rather than strengthen them. Budget justice is essential for racial justice, and for finally creating a society in which Black Lives Matter.”

“We have legislators taking knees, state and local leaders calling for systemic change – all in response to recent mass demonstrations. But we’ve been ringing this alarm for years – especially in California, Western Center has called out systemic, racial, and economic injustice for decades,” said Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy at Western Center on Law & Poverty.  “This moment can be different, but not without putting money where the talk is. We need a dramatic resource shift — tax the extraordinary wealth exacerbating inequality in California, and use it to heavily invest in the Black, brown, and low-income communities that are suffocated by systemic inequality.”

“Now more than ever, it’s critical for California lawmakers to invest in integrated programs that not only create and maintain union, family-sustaining jobs, but also protect us against the climate crisis and uplift our Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” said Mary Creasman CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters.  “The Climate crisis is not just an environmental issue – it is an economic and justice issue as well. It’s not a coincidence that those hardest hit by economic and climate crises are black and brown communities. We need to do better and budget cuts to core services and critical environmental programs is not the answer.”

“As one of the world’s largest economies, California can no longer stand for a budget and tax system that is balanced on the backs of Black and brown communities, seniors, children, and our most vulnerable,” said Ronald Coleman, Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy at Health Access.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated existing inequalities, and a budget system that relies on cuts, as we saw this year, puts our long-term health, economic recovery, and needed investments towards equity, all at risk. This campaign calls for a new vision for revenues that support the health and financial well-being of all Californians struggling to recover through the pandemic, while helping us thrive into the future.”

State budget cuts are not equally felt and exacerbate inequities laid bare by the pandemic and recession.

  • Cuts to CalWORKs are over 700% more likely to affect African Americans
  • Cuts to child care slots are over 730% more likely to affect African American children than white children
  • Cuts to home care are over 300% more likely to affect African American seniors and people with disabilities and 300% more likely to affect African American workers
  • Cuts to K-12 education are 230% more likely to affect Latinos than white Californians.
  • Black people dying from COVID-19 in numbers that are nearly twice their share of the population.
  • 76% of COVID-19 deaths in California are individuals 65+.
  • Older adults of color are dying at rates up to 3x their share of the population.
  • Residents and staff of nursing facilities and residential care facilities accounting for 46% of COVID-19 deaths in California.
  • Since COVID-19 impact began in mid-March, over 6 million Californians have filed for unemployment and $26.2 billion in benefits have been paid to workers in need.
  • Job losses have been most acute in sectors not able to telecommute, such as leisure and hospitality, retail, and personal services.
  • Lower-wage workers have disproportionately been impacted by job loss.

For more information about the impact of state budget cuts on communities of color, see this list.

A recent report found corporations pay far less in state taxes than a generation ago.

  • California’s state budget would have received $11.2 billion more revenue in 2017 had corporations paid the same share of their income in taxes that year as they did in 1981.
  • State policymakers have enacted several corporate tax breaks – many without expiration dates – adding up to $5.7 billion for corporations in 2019-20.
  • California spending on tax breaks for corporations far exceeds the amount the state spends on tax benefits for low-income Californians: In 2019, California was projected to spend just $1 billion on the state’s two largest tax credits targeted to Californians with low incomes – the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) and the Young Child Tax Credit.

Follow the campaign this summer on social media: Twitter @CommitToEquity, Instagram @committoequity, and

The Commit to Equity campaign includes the following organizations:

  • AFSME California
  • Alliance for Boys and Men of Color
  • California Environmental Justice Alliance
  • California Federation of Teachers
  • California League of Conservation Voters
  • California Teachers Association
  • Health Access California
  • PICO California
  • PolicyLink
  • SEIU California
  • Sierra Club
  • Western Center on Law and Poverty

The announcement of this campaign occurs alongside other efforts calling on leaders to have the values of justice and inclusion guide efforts to craft the state budget.  Last month, over 50 organizations signed onto a letter to state legislative leaders urging them to mitigate inequality, build a balanced economy, and generate more state revenues by creating a fair and equitable tax system.

See virtual press conference footage here.

CONTACT: Anthony Matthews, (202) 297-3830

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