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California moves to expand Medicaid to some undocumented immigrants, pushing back on Trump policies

Key Points
  • A California legislative committee passes Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's plan to provide health-care benefits to some undocumented young adults as part of a new $213 billion budget.
  • The action pushes back on immigration and health-care policies of President Donald Trump's administration.
  • A state Senate plan that fails to win budget committee approval had proposed going further on health benefits to undocumented immigrants, extending coverage to seniors 65 and older.
Governor of California Gavin Newsom speaks during the the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at Moscone Center in San Francisco on June 1, 2019.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

A California legislative committee on Sunday approved Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's plan to provide health-care benefits to some undocumented young adults, pushing back on policies of President Donald Trump's administration.

The proposed expansion of the state's Medicaid program to low-income undocumented immigrants ages 19 to 25 is part of the new $213 billion budget plan approved by a budget conference committee of the Democratic-controlled legislature. California taxpayers would pay the cost of the benefits for undocumented individuals.

"Trump is going to call it an invitation for more undocumented immigrants to cross the border," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California.

The governor proposed the health-care expansion in his May budget revision, estimating it would cost nearly $100 million and provide full-scope coverage to about 90,000 undocumented individuals in the first year.

"The budget adopted by the Conference Committee is balanced, creates historic reserves and expands budget resiliency," Newsom said in a statement Sunday.

The governor's January plan had estimated the cost of expanding health care to cover undocumented immigrants would run about $260 million.

"Expect a lot of political attacks on California," said Pitney. "But those attacks won't have much impact in California, where there's a great deal of sympathy for undocumented immigrants."

The state's budget plan still requires final approval of the Senate and Assembly, which are expected to take up the proposal later this week. Lawmakers have until June 15 to enact the new budget, which is for the fiscal year starting in July.

"We are pleased that Medi-Cal coverage will expand to not just all income-eligible children but young adults, regardless of immigration status, but disappointed we couldn't make that same commitment to seniors this year," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide health-care consumer advocacy coalition.

Wright added, "While a handful of states cover all income-eligible children and pregnant women, California will become the first state to remove the exclusion for other adults, recognizing our health system is stronger when more people can get primary and preventive care."

A state Senate plan proposed going further on health benefits to undocumented immigrants, extending coverage to seniors 65 and older. But it didn't pass the conference committee.

"It could be expanded unless there's some court determination that it is inappropriate or we hit a recession and the state of California comes around and realizes that it can't afford it," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the state's largest taxpayer group.

California is home to more than 2.3 million undocumented immigrants, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank.

The Trump administration has been critical of California's policies protecting undocumented immigrants, including the state's so-called "sanctuary" policies that bar local authorities from asking about the immigration status of people during routine interactions or participating in federal immigration enforcement actions. The administration last year sued California over the sanctuary state policies, which several counties and cities in the state have opposed.

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment for this story.

"From the federal government's perspective, we can understand the frustration with policies that grant undocumented individuals all these public benefits and sanctuary city status, which has an extraordinary impact on crime," said Coupal.

Coupal said overall the new budget plan is a "huge increase in spending" but he's pleased to see additional funding socked away into the state's rainy day fund. Still, he said there's concern a recession could happen and take away the surplus in one or two quarters if it's severe enough.