Democratic legislators lauded the state budget's planned expansion of public healthcare to children in the country illegally as "historic" Tuesday afternoon, and trumpeted California's immigrant-friendly spending plan in contrast to federal inaction on immigration policy.
"We are the first legislative body -- we are the first state in the union -- to invest in children without legal status," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) in a news conference. "With this budget, we’re saying that immigrants matter, irrespective of who you are or where you’re from.”
The expansion of the state's Medi-Cal program would begin in May 2016. It is expected to cost $40 million in the next budget and $132 million annually after that. An estimated 170,000 youths under the age of 19 could qualify, according to state estimates.
Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who has been most active on the healthcare expansion push, said the budget deal announced Tuesday "really goes to show that California once again paves the way while Washington D.C. continues to create roadblocks for these communities."
He lambasted both parties in Congress for failing to produce a more sweeping overhaul of the country's immigration laws.
Lara had initially sought to extend public healthcare coverage to all individuals who are in the country illegally. But his proposal had been pared down to focus mainly on coverage for children, as well as seeking federal permission to allow higher-income individuals in the country illegally to purchase coverage on the state's Covered California exchange.
He said further extending healthcare to adults regardless of legal status will be a "multiyear effort."
The budget plan, which lawmakers are expected to vote on Friday, would also create a new post in the governor's office to oversee statewide programs to integrate immigrants and would allocated $15 million for naturalization services.
Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.