As the constitutional deadline for adopting California’s budget approached Sunday evening, California’s families in need, many of them families of color, should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Despite being armed with enough revenue to balance the budget with a surplus, enough votes to render Republican opposition futile, or to hold hostage the Governor’s electric train if need be, and enough empathy for the poor expressed in legislators’ floor speeches to shame Robin Hood, still we have failed to deliver a state spending plan that addresses the most basic needs of millions of families and children. Clearly the future will require a new strategy—and a bolder resolve.
To be sure, some progress was made and some important initiatives received modest funding in this budget, including $264 million for the Fair Starts program. But, in deference to the severe cuts of yesteryear, it was too little.
Let it be said:
• Regaining 1500 childcare slots is better than none.
• Increasing the average CalWORKs grant from its current monthly payment of $670 for a family of three to $704 is better than nothing.
• The provision of $90 million for community-based re-entry services for the incarcerated is indeed the way to start meaningfully combatting a 70-percent recidivism rate.
• Allowing caregiving kin to earn more In-Home Supportive Services compensation is an improvement.
• $30 million to increase Cal Grants for college students is a start.
• Less than $4 million targeted for Black infant health can only be a beginning
•Restoring eligibility to the Early Start and Applied Behavioral Analysis Services for our neediest Californians is what we are supposed to do.
Yet on the day of the vote, Father’s Day, it would not do for California’s Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) to be silent about some of the critical family needs the new budget ignores. New funding for the timely representation of children in dependency court was left out. In the face of such offensive negligence, it is impossible to remain silent. So during debate it fell to CLBC’s chair to note that talk is cheap, but "It is our actions, our duty as policymakers…that should be the loudest representation of our core beliefs and values."
No one can, anymore, pretend to be ignorant about the twin crises of rising poverty and of children suffering from the irremediable effects thereof, particularly in the African American community. We also know that each dollar spent on early high-quality education generates seven dollars in reduced crime rates, lower drop-out rates and higher earnings.
When is it time to stop holding our noses and voting for others’ agendas and against our own community interests? Capitol leaders, please be warned: the "tempered enthusiasm" with which representatives of the people can be expected to vote for and defend budgets which abandon our families and children has been exhausted.
Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) is Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus