MAY 20, 2021 5 AM PT


Healthcare advocates in California are pushing back against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget plan released last week, saying it follows a dangerous pattern of underfunding local public health agencies despite glaring funding inadequacies exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health leaders asked that $200 million in ongoing funding be included in the state budget being negotiated for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but Newsom’s spending plan calls instead for a $3-million study to determine how much public health programs need so that the money can be included next year.

Health advocates and some lawmakers say the plan leaves a gap in funding that jeopardizes the work of public health agencies in communities across the state.

“No one realizes that we’re necessary or we exist until something like COVID happens, and then we’ve been so significantly reduced,” said Dr. Flojaune Cofer, senior director of policy for Public Health Advocates. “We need to make a consistent investment in our infrastructure and in prevention, because that’s how prevention works. You can’t wait until you’re in the midst of a crisis to prevent, you have to have the dollars in advance.”

Advocates said they see no reason to wait. The state has seen a massive tax revenue windfall, resulting in $38 billion in discretionary cash. Newsom had announced a “surplus” of nearly $76 billion, but the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said Tuesday that figure was misleading because it included revenue that must, by law, go toward public schools, paying off debt or be placed in the state’s main reserve account.

On Friday, Newsom dismissed assessments that his budget did not provide new funding to public health, saying there is $300 million for public hospitals and investments in the Medi-Cal system for low-income Californians. The Biden administration has also announced $7.4 billion in federal funding this month to help states and counties recruit and hire public health workers.