Following the approval of Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget, state-subsidized health insurance will be provided, as well as some food assistance benefits for undocumented workers in Santa Maria.
It is estimated that approximately 700,000 undocumented Californians will qualify for the state’s Medi-Cal extension.
“Health insurance is actually very important for everyone, but especially for people who are afraid of going to the doctor or claiming benefits because of their immigration status,” said Diana Raya, a resident of Santa Maria.
State officials predict the move will cost about $2.6 billion a year. The program would increase the eligibility of Medi-Cal for low-income undocumented residents aged 26 to 49.
Leaders of the local nonprofit organization MICOP call the news a victory.
“Many of our indigenous immigrant community have been denied vital resources, especially in health care,” said the group’s policy director Vanessa Terán. “We are now in a better position to care for the health and well-being of our community.”
As for the state’s recently expanded food benefits, the California food aid program will now make undocumented immigrants age 55 and older eligible to receive food stamps in the state.
Some residents say the move is a step in the right direction, with room for improvement.
“You can’t just give something to 55-year-olds who do nothing, and not to someone younger than them who breaks their backs and has nothing. I think it has to go both ways,” said Santa Maria resident David Amavisca.
‘You drive through the streets and you see them picking up the fruits with their backs bent. Why not help them?’ added Cassandra Pacheco, who just moved to Santa Maria last month.
MICOP estimates that there are more than 160,000 farm workers in California. Group leaders say they are working with other nonprofits in the state to extend those food aid benefits to all undocumented residents, regardless of age.
Other locals said they didn’t want to be interviewed, but felt the state should work to support California’s homeless population and reduce inflation before extending these benefits.
California’s approved budget includes $35 million to prepare for the food aid program, which the state expects to grow to $113 million by 2026.
The Medi-Cal expansion program is expected to begin in early 2024, while the timeline for better access to food aid benefits is still unfinished.