Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature on Friday unveiled a state budget plan that would expand Medi-Cal coverage to low-income, undocumented adults and seniors ages 50 and over.

State leaders are expected to sign the deal next week.

The proposed expansion makes California closer to potentially becoming the first state in the nation to extend health care coverage to all its low-income residents regardless of immigration status. The state extended Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented children in 2016 and young adults up to the age of 26 in 2020.

Coverage would start in 2022 and cost the state an ongoing $1.3 billion.

Newsom had originally included extending Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented seniors over 65 in his budget last year but struck it, citing an expected budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He introduced a proposal again in his revised budget plan released in May to extend coverage for undocumented adults and seniors over the age of 60.

Immigrant advocates and members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus for years have championed the effort.

“California has been taking the lead in integrating undocumented immigrants into broader society at a time when the federal government has been at an impasse with respect to passing comprehensive immigration policy reform,” said Paulette Cha, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Perris resident Isabel, 77, who asked that her last name not be used because she is an undocumented immigrant, said she was relieved at the expansion.

The former farmworker from Mexico said her immigration status often prevented her from seeking health care.

“Having this (coverage), one can now go to the doctor,” she said in Spanish. “There are so many people who need this, not just me.”

Throughout the pandemic, “there’s been a big focus on who has been left behind,” said Sarah Dar, director of health and public benefits policy at the California Immigrant and Policy Center.

Dar added that years of advocacy, the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate toll on immigrant communities and the state’s budget surplus helped the cause rise as a priority for many state lawmakers.

Meanwhile, recent statewide polling had also shown that 66% of Californians approved increasing health care coverage to undocumented residents.

California, home to about 2 million undocumented residents, contains the largest undocumented population in the U.S. About one in ten workers in the state is undocumented.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, is currently pushing a bill that would extend Medi-Cal coverage to all undocumented Californians regardless of age.


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