To save his debt-riddled state $304 million, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a cruel and short-sighted cut in public assistance for legal immigrants who don’t yet qualify for welfare. In search of a trifling 1.5 percent bite to take out of the state’s $20 billion budget gap, Schwarzenegger will pull food off of Californians’ tables; eliminate their access to essential medical care; and take basic cash assistance out of their hands. These are vital programs, and the California Immigrant Policy Center notes grimly, "California will not be well-served by budget decisions that increase homelessness, emergency room use and put vulnerable seniors, the disabled and children at risk." As is the case with most budgetary solutions that create savings by wheedling services away from those at bottom of the economic spectrum, the ripple effect will negatively impact all Californians.
Thirty-seven thousand will lose the help they now receive through the California Food Assistance Program, nearly 70 percent of whom come from working families with children. Since poverty and obesity go hand-in-hand in the United States, this is not an auspicious way to integrate California into Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that $5 given in food stamp benefits generates $9.20 in total community spending, so as immigrants see their meals grow smaller and their families grow hungrier, embattled business owners will see their consumer base–and their profits–shrink as well.
Twenty-four thousand will lose assistance provided by CalWORKs, which through its welfare-to-work structure provides families with cash, childcare, job-training, and other services. In addition to decreased spending in communities–landlords will go unpaid and merchants will lose business, for example–CIPC observes, "Many of those who would lose assistance are victims of domestic violence who need assistance in order to secure safety and economic security for themselves and their children." Dollars and cents aside, the Schwarzenegger cuts would have a tremendous human cost.
Finally, Medi-Cal services will be eliminated for 48,570 legal immigrants and 65,000 undocumented immigrants who have informed immigration officials of their presence but who are not targeted for deportation. (Pregnant women and children will not lose their coverage.) GOP claims notwithstanding, health care is a necessity, not a luxury, and those now receiving Medi-Cal assistance will increasingly find themselves relying on short-term, expensive care administered in the emergency room, not preventative medicine and treatment provided at the doctor’s office. Maddeningly, though, Schwarzenegger appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday and declared, "I think that if you do health care, you cannot do health care without prevention. I think the prevention part is the biggest and the most important part of health care reform." The California Department of Health Care Services estimates that 56 percent of medical services cut under Schwarzenegger’s proposal would be administered and billed as emergency services–the opposite of preventative care.
To save pennies, then, Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate the safety net of food assistance, cash assistance, medical care, and other aid for those who, just like him, have come to America in search of a new life. California’s immigrant population pays more than $30 billion in federal taxes and uses less than its fair share of public services. This isn’t exactly the proper way to say thanks.