EDITORIAL: Vulnerable need protection in budget

June 13, 2013

State legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown have been doing victory laps over their budget talks this week, and they have a lot of reasons to be glad: With the state's finances relatively healthy for the first time in years, the discussion has centered on service expansion instead of painful cuts. But before they start patting each other on the back, legislators and the governor shouldn't forget the health and well-being of two vulnerable populations of young people at risk of getting lost in the shuffle: former foster youth and (low-income) children with autism.

For former foster youth, Sacramento has to ensure that they don't suffer gaps in their access to health coverage.

Under federal health care reform, as of January of next year, former foster youth will be eligible for health coverage through Medi-Cal until the age of 26. But there is a small subset of former foster youth who are vulnerable to having a gap in their coverage - those who are turning 21 in the next six months. State legislators have remedied this with a patch that passed through the Budget Conference Committee on Monday. They need to hold firm on this patch as part of the budget deal - and the governor needs to insist on it as part of the final budget that eventually will get his signature.

Of great concern is the fate of low-income autistic children who will be moving from the state's Healthy Families program to Medi-Cal - and losing their behavioral-health services in the process. Brown's administration promised that there would be a fix for these children, but those fixes are failing.

The Budget Conference Committee dropped $50 million in short-term funding for these services, which are crucial for autistic children. There hasn't been a successful longer-term fix approved, either.

We understand why the governor and the Legislature are seeking to be cautious about spending, given the state's precarious economic environment. But it's unconscionable for these children to lose services that they had and so badly needed, in a year that's supposed to be about healing the wounds of the state's painful past budgets.