Editorial: LGBTQ caucus has CA budget ideas

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday April 10, 2024
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State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, left, and Assemblymember Chris Ward are the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. Photos: Courtesy Legislative LGBTQ Caucus
State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, left, and Assemblymember Chris Ward are the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. Photos: Courtesy Legislative LGBTQ Caucus

The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus has released its list of priority bills, legislation it supports, and, crucially, priority budget requests. The latter is important because the governor and lawmakers are working to close a budget deficit that could be between $38 billion and $73 billion, according to officials.

Among the caucus' priority legislation is Senate Bill 954 by lesbian state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley). This bill, a version of which was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom last year, is the Youth Health Equity and Safety Act, or YHES. It seeks to address the sexually transmitted infection epidemic among California youth and improve equitable public health outcomes statewide by expanding teen access to condoms in schools and communities. We were critical of Newsom's veto last year and encouraged Menjivar to reintroduce the legislation. In his veto message, he blamed its estimated $4 million cost, calling it an unfunded mandate for school districts, many of which are also cash-strapped. But condoms are cheap, and when purchased in bulk like the state could do, cost pennies apiece.

This year, the caucus has a solution to at least a bit of the budget problem. One of Newsom's proposals to close the state's deficit is to borrow $500 million from the AIDS Drug Assistance Rebate Fund and transfer that money to the general fund. The caucus has a better idea: reduce the ADAP loan to $250 million, of which $5 million must go toward the YHES Act. In other words, the caucus has found a workaround to fund the condoms in schools.

Additionally, the caucus' budget request seeks several modernizations to ADAP to help more clients who need this service. These include an ADAP and PrEP Assistance Program eligibility increase from 500% of the federal poverty level to 600%, a one-time expense of $3.5 million; a $10 million one-time increase to the Harm Reduction Clearinghouse; and a $3.5 million onetime health insurance premium payment cap and $7 million (ongoing).

The caucus is also calling for $5 million (ongoing) for the TGI Wellness Equity Fund to pay for trans-related services across the state. It also wants $400,000 for needs assessments and analyses for both gap identification and client navigation and retention services, as well as a PrEP navigation program.

Other priority budget requests include $250,000 to be divided into three programs to help bring equity, justice, and inclusion for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex immigrants. And the caucus wants to renew previously allocated funding for the "Preservation and Accessibility of California's LGBTQ+ History Program," which is a competitive grant program that is administered by the California State Library. The program supports LGBTQ+ archives of all sizes.

In 2019, a state library funding request to maintain $500,000 in funding for eight LGBTQ archival groups was denied, as the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time. But in 2022, the state library was able to grant $750,000 to LGBTQ history projects, as the paper also reported.

There's another budget priority of the caucus: Investing $5 million in state funding to be used toward the installation of a new ADA-compliant main stairway and a new escalator to access the entrance to the Castro Muni Station for Harvey Milk Plaza. This is part of the planned $35 million Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza project, and likely would be pooled into the other public funds already awarded, but used for the specific ADA items. The city is already in the process of installing a new elevator, which is separate from the plaza redo; the stairs and escalator would go a long way toward making accessibility improvements to the Muni station.

These budget requests are important because we know it will be a tough year. We suspect that many bills will not be approved due to their cost. Yet at the same time, it's critical that the LGBTQ community be able to maintain services, particularly around health issues, and that the trans community also receives some budget equity. We realize the requests from the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus don't go far enough, but given the seriousness of the deficit, we think the caucus has done a good job at setting its priorities.

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