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Cutting Social Services to Immigrants Hurts Us All

New America Media, Commentary, Vanessa Cajina Posted: May 28, 2009

In response to federal cuts, California stepped up and developed three life-saving programs for lawful immigrants. These include the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI), the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), and full-scope Medi-Cal for lawful immigrants who have been in the United States for fewer than five years. State legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, have consistently voted to keep these services up and running since they were established.

Theyve done this because they understand how critical these services are.

To those who follow the California budget crisis, the Governors proposals to eliminate these programs are no surprise. In fact, hes tried to get rid of these on at least 5 occasions. To its credit, the legislature has stood up for the poor and refused to let these programs go by the wayside. What has been troubling, though, is that the Governor has proposed outright elimination of programs that were signed into law by another Republican Governor, Pete Wilson, and have been maintained by legislators from both parties.

There is a vast difference between reducing funding for a program and completely eliminating it. A significant amount of work has been done over the past thirteen years to ensure that immigrant seniors and disabled folks are able to live with dignity. And when we see one population, in this case lawful immigrants, in the crosshairs time and time again, it becomes apparent that a good number of the cuts being proposed are singling out this population, contrary to what the Schwarzenegger administration claims.

These programs are not large. CAPI, for example, serves around 10,000 lawfully residing elderly or disabled immigrants who are ineligible for federal SSI because, despite the fact that they have lived and worked in the U.S., do not meet the work requirements for SSI. Many CAPI clients are working through the immigration process to get their citizenship and qualify for Social Security, which is federally funded. In the meantime though, CAPI provides monthly cash assistance to low-income immigrants who rely on this small grant to pay their rent, food, and medical care.

CFAP provides food assistance for low-income families, also lawfully residing, who do not yet qualify for federal food stamps. About 22,000 immigrant Californians benefit from CFAP, which keeps them from going hungry while investing in local merchants who sell their wares to these clients. Lastly, the California legislature has recognized the need to provide primary preventive healthcare to low-income lawful immigrants by linking them to full-scope medical care through the states Medi-Cal program.

The most disconcerting aspect of this is the callous tenor in which these budget cuts are cast. The Governors budget spokesperson, H.D. Palmer, told reporters that in tough times, everyone needs to share in the suffering. He is wrong. Low-income residents already bear the bulk of the pain during bad budget years and have shouldered the load of the budget cuts time and time again. Revenue solutions, such as developing an oil, alcohol or internet purchase tax could bring billions of dollars to the state, but mysteriously vanish when business associations step in.

More examples of the out-of-touch nature of this administration were evident during the Governors own press conference when he released his May Revise. When introducing Mike Genest, the Director of the Department of Finance (otherwise known the budget guy), the Governor said to reporters: Heres the man whos at the top of the suicide watch list. Had the Governor read the letters advocates sent to his office recently, he might not have been so casual in his mention of suicide. Back in 1997, when Congress eliminated SSI benefits for lawful immigrant seniors, there were several reports of seniors who committed suicide when they realized they would no longer have an income, and would need to turn to family members for help. One, a Hmong woman named Chia Yang, lived in Sacramento. Eliminating the only means of support for the disabled and elderly is no laughing matter, and treating these budget cuts with gallows humor in the midst of the worst economic crisis in years is beneath the Governor.

On Immigrant Day an older Vietnamese man told a San Jose assembly member through his translator: When you see the Governor, ask him one thing. Can he live off $600 a month? Because thats what I do. But I cant do it for less. Please dont make more cuts.

These cuts indeed hurt us all, and are reflected in homeless rates and in emergency room costs. They consistently target law-abiding newcomers who have paid into our social security and Medicare systems, have fought in our wars, have built our homes, grown our food, and cared for our children and seniors. We all need to share in the solution to our budget crisis but we must take our immigrant seniors, disabled, and working families out of the crosshairs.

Vanessa Cajina is a statewide policy analyst at California Immigrant Policy Center

Related Articles:

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Women Immigrants Change America (and Themselves)

A Year Later, Iowa Raid Haunts Immigrants

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