California state budget and programs hinge on federal assistance
Federal aid is necessary for California to recover from COVID-19 while continuing to prioritize children
Additional federal aid is necessary for California to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to prioritize the well-being of our children.
Former Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, Chair of the First 5 Commission for Children and Families for the State of California, and ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood member, George Halvorson.
Research shows both high-quality early childhood care and education and health services help children prepare for kindergarten, increase school attendance, graduate high school, obtain a four-year degree, and enter the workforce with the skills they need to succeed. Yet, the pandemic has put significant strain on our healthcare and child care systems in ways that jeopardize these positive outcomes.
Medi-Cal, the primary source of health coverage for children in California, provides coverage to 5.2 million California children. We can expect more children will be eligible for Medi-Cal as families experience record job loss, unemployment, reductions in income, and loss of employer-provided benefits, which requires the legislature and governor to maintain and expand investments in Medi-Cal.
Additionally, the State should remain committed to preventive care outreach as well as education about preventive services for children. It should not abandon or scale these efforts down because of the pandemic. Routine preventive care services like lead level screenings, behavioral assessments, and other key developmental screenings have slowed down because of shelter-in-place orders. This slowdown exacerbates already low rates of immunizations and access to primary care for children on Medi-Cal that have persisted for the last decade as reported by the California Healthcare Foundation.
Plans to distribute needed books to low-income California children in the first years of life who have no books have also been seriously damaged by the COVID-19-related budget reductions. Progress on closing the serious learning gaps in the schools will be set back by that failure to get books to low income-children in the critical time period for neural connections as their brains are developing.
There is no question the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how critical child care is to allowing people to return to work, provide for their families, and stabilize the economy. According to the California Budget & Policy Center, more than 1 in 5 California children have parents who are defined as “essential workers.” Our essential workforce is the backbone of California’s economy and infrastructure, and the state must sustain access to child care services to help our most vulnerable front-line workers.
The need for affordable, high-quality child care spiked in during the 2008 recession and has remained challenging for families working in low-wage jobs. In 2018, California ranked as the second-least-affordable state for center-based infant care in the nation, with care costing an estimated 56 percent of the median annual income for single parents. A recent report from the ReadyNation network of business leaders highlighted that child care inaccessibility–for infants and toddlers alone–costs California families, employers, and the state’s economy an estimated $6.8 to $9.1 billion annually.
Business leaders were part of the hard-won efforts to have state budget funding cuts restored in early childhood programs. Our endeavors to rebuild these programs for the last 12 years will be wasted if we undo the gains we have made in ensuring that children receive high-quality care and educational resources at a pivotal point in development.
While business leaders can continue to support public investments in child-serving programs, we cannot continue this work without state and federal funding to ensure California can recover from this crisis. Ultimately, we must secure federal aid to help strengthen our state and protect our critical resources – child care, birth-to-three programs, and much-needed health care for our most vulnerable families.