- Felicia Matlosz
FRESNO, CA – Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) describes the new State Budget as a historic, transformative fiscal plan that – as California emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic – provides substantial investment in a broad range of services and programs to significantly improve the lives of Californians and sets a solid direction into the future.
Today, in Fresno, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 133, the omnibus health bill that Assemblymember Arambula helped craft and guide as chair of Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services. The committee oversees approximately one-third of the State Budget.
Assemblymember Arambula was proud to be part of the event because he is particularly pleased that the 2021-22 State Budget, through AB 133, includes a key provision that he vigorously advocated for – expanding full scope Medi-Cal to income-eligible undocumented adults 50 years of age and older, people who pay their share of taxes and contribute to the state’s economy. This will ensure that an estimated 250,000 people who currently cannot access these full scope services will be able to do so.
The nearly $263 billion State Budget also carries a major allocation that Assemblymember Arambula sought for Fresno County, which includes the 31st District that he represents -- $15 million is designated for the San Joaquin River Conservancy, for operations and maintenance. This investment will strengthen efforts to shape the San Joaquin River Parkway into a regional jewel that can be equitably accessed and enjoyed by everyone as an asset for recreation and improved health.
Arambula announced that allocation on July 23 with a $15 million check presentation to the Conservancy at Wildwood Native Park along the San Joaquin River.
In addition, Arambula this session secured $1 million for Reedley College in his District for its Aviation Maintenance Technology program that is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and has helped expand the region’s workforce development efforts.
Arambula, who’s made health equity a top priority since his election in 2016, also was instrumental in ensuring that funding continues for programs aimed at increasing the number of physicians and other health care workers crucially needed in the Central Valley. This funding includes $16 million in ongoing grants to universities and colleges to operate Health Professions Career Opportunity Programs (HCOP). Fresno State is part of the HCOP network.
Overall, Arambula said the budget seeks to boldly rebuild California while meeting the challenges of homelessness, drought, wildfires, and the impact of COVID-19. Pandemic relief includes $8.1 billion for Golden State Stimulus 2 to provide direct relief to Californians with income up to $75,000, and $1.5 billion in grants for small businesses and nonprofit organizations, which brings the total investment in the Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program to $4 billion.
There also is an unprecedented investment of nearly $124 billion investment in schools (pre-K and K-12) as well as a historic investment in broadband, including $1 billion for rural communities for “last-mile” infrastructure lines to connect homes and businesses with local networks, which will be vital for our region.
Arambula said the fiscal plan approved by the State Legislature and Governor Newsom, is pivotal to improving the lives of many people, including the most underserved and disadvantaged.
“This budget in many ways sets a compassionate course that will directly benefit the people of our state,” Arambula said. “It especially will help parents, families, and individuals from our most vulnerable communities who struggled through the COVID-19 crisis, whether they became ill from the virus, lost their jobs because of it, or fought to keep a roof over their heads – or contended with all of these difficulties at the same time.
“This plan bolsters support for our schools, seniors, people with developmental disabilities, and more. There are serious challenges ahead, but we will meet them. The Golden State is recovering from the pandemic, and we will forge ahead with resilience and determination.”
Gaining full scope Medi-Cal coverage for income-eligible undocumented adults 50 years of age and up is considered a major victory by Arambula, who is an emergency room physician; State Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), who this year pushed to include undocumented seniors; fellow State legislators; and health and immigration rights activists. California is the first state in the nation to provide this coverage to undocumented seniors to this age level for seniors and elders.
The change adds to successes achieved by health and immigration rights activists in recent years, led by Health Access and the California Immigrant Policy Center, resulting in similar coverage for children and young adults up to age 26.
Meanwhile, Arambula said he will continue to champion his bill, Assembly Bill 4 known as the “Health for All” bill, that would ensure this type of coverage for all income-eligible adults, regardless of immigration status. He and many AB 4 advocates – including civil rights leader Dolores Huerta -- hope Governor Newsom will sign the bill into law this year and work toward fully funding the bill in subsequent years.
In addition to HCOP, Arambula once again successfully pushed for other ongoing workforce programs to help address the acute shortage of health care professionals in the Central Valley, especially in underserved communities. These programs include:
- $50 million in a one-time allocation, available over six years, to support and sustain new primary care residency programs through the Song-Brown Health Care Workforce Training Program.
- Increasing funding for the University of California Programs in Medical Education (UC PRIME) by $12.9 million in ongoing funds.
Arambula also said he is heartened by allocations for other health services that he robustly advocated for because they will directly affect constituents in District 31, such as these:
- $30 million in 2021-22 for diaper assistance through eight food and diaper banks statewide; the Central California Food Bank has been part of this ongoing effort.
- “Food for All,” which he coauthored, will expand state-funded nutrition benefits to undocumented immigrants, whose struggles with food insecurity were further impacted by COVID-19.
- $10.9 million in state and federal funds to add continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems as a Medi-Cal benefit for beneficiaries with Type 1 diabetes who can show a medical need, starting Jan. 1, 2022.
- $13 million in ongoing funds to support investments to “End the Epidemics” of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, and drug overdose deaths.
- A financial investment for a sweeping, unprecedented reform of CalAIM (California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal), which will improve services and, in doing so, reduce health disparities.
- $10 million in one-time funds and $750,000 annually after that to establish a Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST), a statewide electronic registry to more efficiently access patients’ wishes when they are seriously ill or frail.
In addition, Assemblymember Arambula strongly supported broadening and enhancing Adult Protective Services by lowering the age of eligibility from 65 to 60. Funding will be $70 million in 2021-22 and then ongoing. To bolster this effort, Arambula this year authored Assembly Bill 695, which would make this expansion part of California law. The bill currently is going through the state legislative process.
Mental health services also are important to Arambula, with a focus on youth. The consequences of coping with months of the pandemic triggered mental health and emotional issues for many young people. The State Budget will invest $4.4 billion over five years to create new and innovative Youth Behavioral Health programs for youth up to age 25. This will include funds for school and county mental health partnerships to support this extensive plan.