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California Democrats agree to delay health care worker minimum wage increase to help balance budget

ADAM BEAM
June 22, 2024

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Democrats in California have agreed to delay a minimum wage increase for about 426,000 health care workers to help balance the state's budget.

The increase was supposed to start on July 1. The agreement, announced Saturday and which must still be approved by the state Legislature, would delay that increase until Oct. 15 -- but only if state revenues between July and September are at least 3% higher than what state officials have estimated.

If that doesn't happen, the increase will not start until January at the earliest.

The minimum wage for most people in California is $16 per hour. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two laws last year that increased the minimum wage for two groups: Fast food workers and health care employees.

The new fast food minimum wage is $20 per hour and took effect on April 1. The new health care worker minimum wage is $25 per hour and was slated to be phased in over the next decade. The first increase was supposed to begin on July 1.

But unlike the fast food minimum wage, the increase for health care workers impacts the state's budget. That's because California employs some health care workers and also pays for health benefits through its Medicaid program.

The Newsom administration had previously said the minimum wage increase would cost the state about $2 billion. But if delayed until January, the increase will cost the state's general fund about $600 million -- a figure that would rise yearly to reflect scheduled increases until it reaches $25 per hour for most health care workers.

"Of course, workers are disappointed that not every low-wage worker in health care will receive raises this summer as the law initially scheduled," said Dave Regan, president of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. "But we also recognize and appreciate that legislative leaders and the Governor listened to us as we mobilized and spoke out this year to insist that, despite a historic budget deficit, California's patient care and healthcare workforce crisis must be addressed."

The agreement is part of a plan to close an estimated $46.8 billion deficit in the state's budget. Newsom and the Democrats who control the state Legislature have been negotiating on how to close the shortfall.

The agreement they announced Saturday includes $16 billion in budget cuts, including a $110 million cut to scholarships for prospective college students from middle-income families and $1.1 billion in cuts to various affordable housing programs.

The agreement would pull $5.1 billion from the state's savings account while delaying $3.1 billion in other spending and shifting $6 billion in expenses to other funds.

But Newsom and lawmakers agreed to abandon some previously proposed budget cuts, including one that would have stopped paying for people to care for some low-income disabled immigrants who are on Medicaid.

"This agreement sets the state on a path for long-term fiscal stability -- addressing the current shortfall and strengthening budget resilience down the road," Newsom said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Mike McGuire called it a "tough budget year," but said elected officials were able "to shrink the shortfall, protect our progress, and maintain responsible reserves."

Democratic Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas said the Assembly "fought hard to protect the public services that matter most to Californians."

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