California Democrats are squaring off this week over how many of the states’ illegal immigrants should be eligible for publicly funded health care.
California governor Gavin Newsom presented a budget proposal this week that calls for $98 million in new spending to make all low-income illegal immigrants ages 19 to 26 eligible for the Medi-Cal program.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the state assembly have introduced a bill that would cover all illegal immigrants over the age of 19 at a cost of $3.4 billion. A third bill, introduced by Democrats in the state senate, would cover illegal immigrants ages 19-26 as well as those over 65 and over.
Proponents of a more expansive public option for illegal immigrants have argued that Sacramento can accommodate the larger price tag due to the state’s projected $21.5 billion budget surplus for the year.
“They work in our hotels, they work picking the fruit and vegetables, they work as landscapers, they work in hospitals,” said state senator Maria Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the more expansive senate bill. “I don’t think they should be treated differently from other Californians.”
Newsom, however, has argued that expanding the eligible pool to immigrants over 25 would introduce new costs that might overwhelm the system in the event of an economic slowdown.
“3.4 billion reasons why it’s a challenge,” Newsom said at a Monday press conference, referring to the estimated cost of covering all illegal immigrants in the state.
Medi-Cal already covers all residents under 18 and all pregnant women regardless of legal status. Since the state legislature is comprised of 75 precent Democrats, there is no significant opposition to its further expansion, the only disagreement is over the scale of that expansion.