Newsom Budget Calls for New Early Childhood Department, Boosts Funds for Housing, Mental Health and Foster Care Reform

Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils the first round of his 2020-2021 budget in Sacramento on January 10. Photo: video still

In his second annual budget proposal on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) pledged to create a new Department of Early Childhood Development, vowed to pursue substantive behavioral health reforms in California and continued to support major child welfare initiatives from his predecessor, former California Governor Jerry Brown.

The new department would consolidate the work of numerous agencies and programs that serve children and low-income families, including CalWORKS (the state’s welfare program), Head Start and Early Head Start, and emergency child care for foster families. Newsom would also increase state preschool funding to include 10,000 more children, as it moves toward a goal of universal preschool for all 4-year-olds from low-income families.

“We’ve got all of these groups doing great work but not together,” Newsom said during a nearly three-hour long presentation of the proposed budget, noting that this move will allow the state to maximize the impact of investments for “children, low-income families and the workforce.”

Newsom said he would establish the new early childhood development department in July 2021. The idea stems from a report from the California Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education last year, which urged the state to better align its resources, especially for low-income families.

Newsom also promised $10 million in one-time funding for screening for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) screening and shouted out the state’s Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, an ACEs expert who Newsom appointed last year.

“She’s probably the best decision I made last year,” Newsom said during his budget presentation.

As the state continues to struggle with a homelessness crisis, Newsom made housing and related supportive services a big part of his budget proposal. He included $1 billion to address homelessness, including $750 million fund for the California Access to Housing and Services Fund in an executive order days before the new budget last week. That includes a big chunk devoted to behavioral health reform, part of an effort to provide more seamless and consistent mental health care to vulnerable groups like foster youth, who face the greatest risk of moving into homelessness as they move into adulthood.

“I want to do whole person care on steroids,” Newsom said during his lengthy budget unveiling.

Funding for child welfare got a nearly 7 percent boost in Newsom’s first budget proposal, with $548.6 million allocated toward implementing the state’s ongoing Continuum of Care Reform, which has been gradually moving the state’s foster care system toward more family-based placements and less use of group homes and other so-called “congregate care” options. Newsom’s budget document claims that congregate care placements — such as those in group homes — have dropped by nearly 40 percent over during the implementation of Continuum of Care Reform over the past three years.

Newsom also continued his investment in the former Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2013 Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) initiative, which steers more state education funding to three vulnerable student groups: foster youth, English language learners and low-income youth.

Newsom’s proposal addresses long-standing transparency and accountability issues around how California school districts spend this money. In addition to a 20 percent supplemental grant for these three groups, the proposal also mandates that school districts and county offices of education will have to better itemize how they are allocating LCFF funds to students in the subpopulations and collect and release data on an accountability website dashboard that details how they are faring over time.

The release of the governor’s first budget proposal sets the stage for negotiations with the state legislature, which ultimately must approve a budget plan by June 15. A balanced budget must be signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Among the other new spending and initiatives of note that were included by Newsom in his 2020 budget:

  • Under the aegis of the new Medi-Cal Healthier California for All, Newsom proposes investing $1.4 billion investment in behavioral health reform in the state, called it a “once in a lifetime chance” to address mental health and whole person care. Formerly known as CalAIM, or California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal Initiative, the effort aims to make structural changes to the delivery of behavioral health services in the state.
  • As the state mulls changes as it renews its federal waivers for specialty behavioral health and managed care, the governor has also proposed a Behavioral Health Task Force collaboration around this effort.
  • $54 million to improve the state’s child welfare case management system; the Child Welfare Services-California Automated Response and Engagement System (CWS-CARES) will replace the state’s longtime Child Welfare System-Case Management System (CWS-CMS).
  • The self-described “homeless czar,” said he would also convene a group of state and academic partners to conduct a study to address the root causes of homelessness.
  • $8 million in continued funds to create “therapeutic communities” inside state-run juvenile justice facilities.
  • With new Trump administration-imposed limits on food stamps looming, Newsom sets aside $20 million to support food banks and mitigate food insecurity.
  • $11 million to improve training for child welfare social workers.

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