As the state enjoys a massive tax windfall, California Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a revised $268 billion budget on Friday that makes several big investments in the state’s social safety net, adding resources for foster youth in schools, beefing up support to vulnerable families in the child welfare system and distributing millions of dollars for behavioral health reforms.
Pitched as an economic recovery plan for the state, Newsom’s budget proposal was aided by the news on Monday that California had accumulated a nearly $76 billion surplus due to unanticipated tax and capital gains revenue from the state’s highest earners. The state has also received $26 billion in federal aid as a result of the American Rescue Plan, the relief package signed by President Biden in March.
“This is not a budget to play small ball,” Newsom said at a press conference on Friday to announce his revised budget. “We’re trying to do things the state has talked about, but never been able to accomplish because we never have the resources to do it.”
While the bulk of Newsom’s budget included one-time investments, he pledged ongoing support for vulnerable students who have faced learning challenges during the pandemic. On Tuesday, the Democratic governor announced that he would be creating a universal transitional kindergarten program, adding a voluntary year of school for all 4-year-olds in the state by the 2024 school year.
Newsom also announced that school districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students, English language learners and foster youth would be prioritized for access to free after-school and summer learning programs that would offer academic instruction and support for up to nine hours a day.
The state will award $30 million in one-time general fund money to county offices of education to help provide academic services to foster youth, who have struggled in school during the pandemic.
In addition, California is planning to allocate $280 million from its general fund over the next two years to increase funding for the Bringing Families Home Program, which supports families struggling with homelessness while in the child welfare system.
Parents who are pursuing reunification also got a break. Newsom's proposal would provide $8.7 million to parents in the state's welfare-to-work program for 180 days while they participate in court-ordered programs and their child is in out-of-home care.
As the state prepares to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act later this year, Newsom plans to set aside $122.4 million over three years to help counties develop prevention services that will target families at risk of entering the child welfare system.
Finally, Newsom promised $39.2 million to help counties serve foster youth with complex behavioral health needs, part of a $1 billion effort to reform mental health services for children throughout the state. The state is also promising $4.9 billion to address the mental health impacts of quarantine requirements and distance learning on children and youth in the state. That includes increased screenings of young people from birth to age 25, Newsom said, plus a new virtual system to help guide youth and families through the behavioral health system.
“In this extraordinary moment in California history we can make the investments to provide all of the services that we need to provide our youth, particularly those that have suffered through tremendous trauma, anxiety, depression, over the course the last year,” Newsom said on Friday.