Newsom Takes Aim at State’s Top Three Challenges: Healthcare, Housing, Homeless
In a conference call May 28 with Asian Pacific Islander media, Gavin Newsom, five months into his term as governor of California, outlined aggressive strategies in current budget proposals to combat three of the state’s biggest headaches: healthcare, housing and homelessness.
And in one of several overt challenges to current White House policies, he highlighted his recent pardoning of two Cambodian immigrants, Kang Hen and Hay Hov, thereby gutting the federal case for their immediate deportation.
He also warned warned that the Trump administration’s deportation focus was expanding beyond the Latino community that’s at the heart of the border wall controversy.
“Healthcare is front and center in the national discourse,” he said, “ever since the vandalism of the Affordable Care Act,” also known as Obamacare. And homelessness, growing by double-digit percentages up and down the state, according to the most recent accounting, released just last week, is “an out-of-control abomination, simply getting worse,” the governor said.
Worse as in 43% increases in Alameda and Orange counties, and 64% in Bakersfield’s Kern County, the governor noted.
“I don’t want to overpromise that we can turn this around overnight,” he warned, but his proposals represent “the most robust homeless investment the state has ever made.”
Similarly, he said, the housing situation is “deeply complex. It’s taken us decades to get to this point.” The governor lambasted the state ranking 49th out of 50 when it comes to building new housing units (behind only Utah) last year and said, “We have got to get serious.”
So he’s pressuring the most laggard communities, such as Huntington Beach, where no new housing was constructed, and generally using the “carrot and stick” approach on 49 other municipalities that haven’t done enough.
The 77,000 new housing units built in the state last year, he said, is “not even close to where we need to go.”
The governor said he’s allocating $1.75 billion into various “housing buckets” — plans to incentivize new construction, for instance, via tax credits, loan subsidies and infrastructure grants to help investment, creating “opportunity zones” and seeking lower voting threshold rules to streamline permitting, encouraging workforce housing along with low-income housing construction.
And to slow that abominable growth in homelessness, Newsom had more than a billion dollars’ worth of proposals, including: $275 million to 13 counties and $275 million more to 13 cities with the most challenging homelessness circumstances. These would go to such things as rapid rehousing programs, hotel conversions, navigation centers, workforce training and mental health programs.
“If you believe in universal health care, then you believe in covering everybody, regardless of immigration status,” he said. His plan would extend coverage to 2.5 million undocumented Californians, including 463,000 members of the Asian Pacific Islander community, he said.
In detailing his intentions, the governor argued that, in the long run, beyond the humanitarian or moral justifications for dedicating hundreds of millions to foster housing construction and homelessness prevention and re-establishing the health care individual mandate, the state will save money, too.
For instance, by enrolling everyone in Medicare, he said, including undocumented immigrants, the state would realize savings on the most expensive health care it provides: emergency room care to those who have no insurance.
“We’re already spending the money,” he said. “We pay a fortune in the emergency room for the undocumented.”
But he envisions other cost-savings too.
“One of the most significant things we are doing in the budget,” he said, is being able to save $400 million annually from the $13.5 billion spent on pharmaceutical drugs by leveraging the state’s purchasing power and implementing bulk purchases.
For another example of anticipated cost savings by expanding Medicare, Newsom pointed out how, subsequent to the elimination of the individual mandate, there was a 9% jump in insurance premiums. But not in Massachusetts, where the individual mandate is still in effect and worth about a 5% difference in premium costs, he said, citing Peter Lee, of Covered California.
The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requirement was removed as part of the GOP tax bill that passed in December 2017.
Other benefits to California health care he’s envisioning are significant boosts in Medi-Cal payments to physicians. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.
Mark Hedin is a San Francisco-based reporter for Ethnic Media Services.