Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goal to make California the first state in the nation to offer food benefits to undocumented immigrants will take longer than expected.
Newsom on Tuesday released a proposed state spending plan that would delay an expansion of the social safety net for undocumented immigrants over age 55 by providing them food benefits.
He held back the money as his administration seeks to close a projected $22.5 billion deficit without cutting programs that are already providing services to Californians. His budget expands benefits to undocumented immigrants in other ways, most notably by sustaining a plan to make all undocumented adults eligible for Medi-Cal health insurance by Jan. 1, 2024.
Advocates said they were disappointed in the delay to food assistance benefits. Immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status are currently not eligible for the state-funded version of food stamps, the California Food Assistance Program.
The expansion was approved in the state budget Newsom signed in June. It was expected to reach about 75,000 people annually by 2025-26, according to a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Advocates of the Food4All campaign, a coalition pushing for food assistance to all immigrants, regardless of age or status, hoped the implementation would begin even earlier. Expansion is contingent on converting to a single statewide system, known as the California Statewide Automated Welfare System migration. That process was estimated to be complete by December 2023.
Newsom’s new budget proposal now says benefit distribution is estimated to begin Jan. 1, 2027.
“The delay in the implementation date…. means that immigrant communities in California who are hurting right now and facing skyrocketing prices of food will continue to experience exacerbated hunger and hardship,” said Betzabel Estudillo, Director of Engagement at Nourish California.
Nearly half of Californians, without legal immigration status deal with food insecurity, according to an April 2022 report by Nourish California. The majority of that population are adults aged 27 to 49. Some advocates wanted Newsom to make them eligible for food assistance.
“By failing to extend food assistance to currently excluded Californians, this budget misses a historic opportunity to build equity and benefits for those that have faced the greatest barriers,” said Benyamin Chao, a health and public benefits policy manager at the California Immigrant Policy Center.
In 2020‑21, 4.5 million Californians received a total of $9.8 billion in CalFresh benefits for an average monthly benefit of about $184 per person.
Newsom keeps Medi-Cal promise
Newsom’s budget would not disrupt a more expensive plan to expand health care benefits for undocuments adults. Newsom remained committed to expanding Medi-Cal to all undocumented immigrants, proposing another $844.5 million in the coming budget.
The program’s launch, starting no later than Jan. 1, 2024, is expected to provide full coverage for approximately 700,000 undocumented residents ages 26-49 and lead to the largest drop in the rate of uninsured Californians in a decade.
The state already allows many undocumented residents to join Medi-Cal. In 2015, California began allowing undocumented children to join Medi-Cal. Four years later, eligibility broadened to those younger than 26. And last May, the state started covering people aged 50 and over. The Medi-Cal expansion is expected to cost $2.6 billion annually.
“We’re all in, we’re not touching that,” Newsom said.
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