SACRAMENTO–Today Governor Gavin Newsom introduced his budget for 2021-22 and Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) provides his response.
“The 2021-22 budget year will be very challenging. The tragic loss of lives and the economic harm that the COVID-19 pandemic has done to Californians and its effect on the state’s economy have been devastating, and to bring things back to the way they were, and address the inadequacies that have long existed even before the pandemic, makes this year especially difficult.
As a state, we must carefully decide priorities with the goal of creating a cascading beneficial effect and, by that, I mean whatever we choose to address first must improve something else. To me, addressing the pandemic is paramount. Preventing spread and speeding up distribution and administration of the vaccine will help save lives, safely reopen schools and businesses and put people back to work. Helping people who are hurting financially can help us all get to a better place and allow our local business owners a chance to rebuild and provide us with the services we need and that we have enjoyed.
The $600 stimulus payments for 4 million lower income Californians and providing small business grants and fee waivers is a start, but we will still press the federal government for more financial support for Californians, for businesses and for our local governments, especially those with smaller populations such as the rural areas I represent. We do not need to lose any of our first responders or public health staff. I support the extension of the eviction moratorium, which currently expires at the end of this month, and for assistance to smaller-scale landlords.
We are still reeling from years of wildfires. People are trying to rebuild their lives and homes, and homeowner insurance cancellations continue. We need more resources to fund prevention efforts in our high-risk areas. The $1 billion in this budget for wildfire resiliency and emergency response to fund more personnel and equipment is essential and I am pleased that my calls for early action before the start of the next fire season have been heard. My efforts to provide funding to help people harden their homes and to increase prescribed fires continues and am thankful the Governor has replaced the funding for home hardening that was stripped from last year’s budget. This $25 million will be leveraged with federal funds and will provide $100 million to help low- and middle-income property owners harden their homes. This is, however, just a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed and I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure we provide more resources for vulnerable communities. In 2018, the Governor approved my budget request for $200 million annually, for five years beginning in 2019, for wildfire prevention and because we lost that funding last year, we asked for an extension and this budget extends that funding for another 5 years.
As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, health care has always been one of my priorities and I will continue my efforts to make health care more accessible and affordable. This fall I held several informational hearings on health care including affordability, cost containment and health information exchanges.
Expansion of care cannot happen without addressing affordability. The Governor’s proposal to create an Office of Health Care Affordability (OHCA) is critical, as is the need to continue our work compiling the all-payer claims database, which is already underway. The OHCA and health care cost-containment has been a passion of mine for years and I am ready to make the OHCA a reality this year.
Another goal this year will be to carry legislation to develop an effective health information exchange (HIE) to ensure that complete health records are portable and belong to the patient, not any one health care office or system. HIE will improve our public health response, empower patients, increase quality and reduce costs no matter where they live or which provider they choose.
The Master Plan for Aging report came out yesterday and its policy recommendations and the funding provided in this budget will help us continue to identify and move on innovative approaches to keep people in their homes, with dignity, as they age. Funding cuts to services for older and disabled Californians were suspended last year. This budget extends those suspensions for another year and my hope is that we can repeal the cuts indefinitely.
Helping people with more funding for behavioral health services and supporting people suffering from homelessness is critical. This pandemic has exacerbated the need for these essential services and am pleased that this is addressed in the budget.
I was also encouraged to see direct assistance to support small and mid-sized farmers and appreciate the federal funding coming for ranchers and farmers.
This year, more than ever before, has revealed the weaknesses in broadband availability. As we have moved to virtual education, working remotely and the need for telehealth services, we continue to lack progress in expanding broadband access, especially in rural and low-income areas. Although the Governor’s budget does not specify funding, I will be working with a number of legislators in both the Senate and Assembly on solutions to the issue.
Overall, I remain cautiously optimistic that we can make significant progress is getting our Californians vaccinated as soon as possible and to continue to financially support our most vulnerable so that 2021 and 2022 are healthy and prosperous.”
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