Newsom's budget plan saves vital programs for immigrants, but kids and hungry seniors may suffer

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - APRIL 15: Kim Ballon a Ventura County In Home Support Services (IHSS) care provider attends to Marjorie Williams, 84, at her Thousand Oaks home as California does little to track safety of health care workers during the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Ballon is worried about a lack of protective gear though she regularly cares for elderly clients, helping them bathe and multiple tasks. (keep as a silhouette) Thousand Oaks on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 in Thousand Oaks, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kim Ballon a Ventura County In Home Support Services care provider attends to a woman at her Thousand Oaks home in 2020. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

When Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic lawmakers agreed to a $297.7-billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, they preserved two vital programs serving thousands of immigrant Californians.

But in agreeing to $16 billion in cuts to balance a $46.8-billion budget deficit, state leaders delayed one program serving some of the state's most vulnerable residents and did not renew another.

The 2024-25 budget plan salvages two programs that had been targeted for cuts. It maintains full funding for a project that provides free legal representation and other assistance to immigrant students, staff, faculty and their families at all 23 Cal State campuses. The plan also sustains in-home support for elderly, blind and disabled undocumented immigrants who qualify for Medi-Cal.

However, it delays the expansion of state-funded food benefits for lower-income, undocumented Californians 55 and older, and the plan does not re-up a two-year pilot program that provides integrated legal and social services for unaccompanied immigrant children in the state.

Masih Fouladi, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, called this year’s budget agreement a “mixed bag.” While he said the preservation of several key initiatives is a “sigh of relief,” he expressed concern about budgetary decisions that could leave some California immigrants exposed — just months before the November election, which could usher Donald Trump and tougher immigration policies back into the White House.

“We have a long way to go to equitably fund and support immigrants in California,” Fouladi said. “Immigrants are close to a third of the population, and trust me, they are not getting a third of the funding when it comes to services within the budget.”

Kept: Cal State clinics offering legal help

Newsom had proposed slashing funding for the CSU Immigration Legal Services Project from $7 million annually to $1.8 million for the upcoming fiscal year, but the budget plan preserves full funding for the program.

Since 2019, the initiative has helped immigrant Californians earn work permits and other legal protections, giving them access to better jobs. The clinics have filled a critical need in regions with a shortage of immigration services, including the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast and the Inland Empire.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom answers a reporter's question about his revised 2024-25 state budget during a news conference.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom answers a question about his revised 2024-25 state budget in Sacramento in May. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

If the program’s budget had been cut by 75% as proposed, the number of staff provided by four legal services organizations would have been significantly reduced, according to Barbara Pinto, co-director of Oakland-based Immigrant Legal Defense, which serves nine Cal State campuses. The remaining attorneys wouldn’t have had the capacity to take on new clients, she said, and the program would have essentially “come to a full stop.”

“The restoration of the California State University Immigration Legal Services Project is an investment in the future of California and its vibrant immigrant communities,” Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigrant Legal Defense co-director, said in a statement. “We applaud the legislature for standing firm against cuts that would have devastating consequences for vulnerable immigrant families throughout our state.”

Kept: In-home care

The budget agreement also rejects Newsom’s proposal to save nearly $95 million by cutting undocumented immigrants from the In-Home Supportive Services program.

IHSS pays assistants to help eligible Medi-Cal recipients with domestic tasks and personal care services, and accompany them to and from doctor appointments. It aims to help people remain safely in their own homes, rather than having to move into nursing homes.

The program serves more than 2,600 undocumented immigrants across the state who are seniors, blind or disabled, according to the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. Cutting them from IHSS would have had “devastating consequences," according to Ronald Coleman Baeza, managing director of policy for the network.

Coleman Baeza commended the governor and state leaders for ensuring equal access to IHSS services.

“We are thrilled that undocumented individuals will be treated just like any other resident in our state,” he said. “If they are a senior who needs care, or if they have a disability, they will be able to get the care that they need, with dignity, in their homes, rather than potentially be institutionalized or face extensive hospitalization, which certainly would come with other consequences that would be harmful.”

Delayed: Expanded food benefits

The state had planned to expand state-funded food benefits to all income-eligible Californians 55 or older, regardless of their immigration status, as of Oct. 1, 2025. But the budget agreement delays by two years the expansion of the California Food Assistance Program, leaving more than 100,000 undocumented people 55 and up at risk of food insecurity until 2027.

The expansion would have been California's first step toward extending state-funded food benefits to undocumented residents.

The delay “is going to cause a lot of harm in immigrant communities in our state," said Jackie Mendelson, policy advocate for Nourish California. Mendelson co-leads the Food4All campaign, which has been pushing for food assistance for all Californians regardless of immigration status.

More than one-third of undocumented immigrants 55 and older have experienced food insecurity, according to a 2023 report from the Food4All campaign.

The budget plan does reallocate a pot of money from this year’s budget to next year’s to ensure system readiness when the expansion takes place — a sign, Mendelson said, that Newsom and legislative leaders are “still committed” to expanding the program.

“We recognize that tough decisions had to be made,” Mendelson said. But “we are also really saddened by this decision. We know that this will perpetuate the harm caused by food insecurity, and we feel very strongly that immigration status must not be a barrier to food access.”

Cut: Aid for unaccompanied children

A two-year pilot program that has provided hundreds of unaccompanied immigrant children with both an attorney and either a social worker or a case manager while navigating the immigration legal system has not been renewed. Advocates had requested $17.8 million to maintain the program beyond 2024.

The Children’s Holistic Immigration Representation Project, funded at about $13.5 million from the state Department of Social Services, was created in response to an increase in the number of unaccompanied, undocumented minors arriving at the southern border and released by the federal government to sponsors in California. Since September 2022, the program has provided immigrant youth with legal representation, as well as help securing housing, education, food, and medical and mental health treatment.

Experts say the integrated legal and social services provided through the program have helped ensure unaccompanied children don’t fall through the cracks — or, at worse, become vulnerable to labor or criminal exploitation.

“For the last two years, the Children’s Holistic Immigration Representation Project has mobilized community support and resources to provide trauma-informed care and legal services to unaccompanied children and youth who call California home,” Hortencia Rodriguez Sandoval, director of community partnerships and state and local policy at the Acacia Center for Justice, said in a statement. “It is a huge setback that CHIRP services would cease to be offered with no alternative to the children and youth who depend on them.”

She urged Newsom and the legislature to “explore all remaining avenues” in order to restore funding for the program.

This article is part of The Times’ equity reporting initiative, funded by the James Irvine Foundation, exploring the challenges facing low-income workers and the efforts being made to address California’s economic divide.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.