Here's the good news: Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed our state's budget -- officially passing it on time for two years running.
The bad news? It does little to address our state's most painful and embarrassing problem: mounting poverty.
The Supplemental Poverty Measure -- a more accurate measure of poverty rates developed by the Census Bureau -- shows that California's poverty rate is 23.5 percent. That's the worst in the nation; no other state comes close.
What's worse? California is responsible for almost the entire increase in the nation's poverty rate with this new measure.
Some may agree with Ronald Reagan when he proclaimed that we declared war on poverty -- and poverty won.
But a cursory look at our budget history reveals the truth: We surrendered.
The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of our governor and legislators. The recession hit Californians hard -- and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature passed that pain onto our most vulnerable.
CalWORKS, which helps families with children, has been decimated. Today, a family of three receives an average of $460 a month -- a fraction of the poverty level, and just 8 percent of California's median income. Supplemental Security Income for seniors and people with disabilities, once among the most generous because our high cost of living, is now the minimum the federal government allows.
Our safety net has been shredded to the point that nearly 7 million Californians can't meet their most basic need: food.
Brown has continued this trend. With two years left in his term, he has a chance to rebuild, but says we can't afford it. Meanwhile, he has refused to put revenue options on the table to balance our budget.
That is the state of our state.
In nearly two decades at California food banks, I've heard countless heartbreaking stories from people desperate for food. They were voices of fear and shame.
But lately, the voices have taken a new tone: outrage.
Outrage that a job is no guarantee against hunger. Outrage that a state boasting the 12th-largest economy in the world views meager safety net benefits as "too much." Outrage that those elected to represent their hopes and fears are failing them again and again.
Make no mistake: balancing the budget with safety-net cuts is nothing more than an easy way out for legislators. Low-income children can't afford high-powered lobbyists.
Clearly, our legislators don't hear the voices of those in poverty -- nearly a quarter of our state's population.
That's why we need to amplify their voices.
Previous legislatures and governors failed our state, but today's still have the opportunity to rebuild something we can take pride in again.
Our new budget offers glimmers of hope. While basic dental care for low-income residents is a welcome first step, it's far from the comprehensive solution we need.
Progressive revenue options must be part of the discussion. Fully restoring cuts to programs like CalWORKS and SSI, and improving access to nutrition for low-income would put our state back on the right path -- if our legislators have the will.
So let's give them the will.
The ink still may be wet on this budget, but it's never too early to voice our concerns. Remember, the government works for us. Call our governor and legislators. Demand that they restore, rebuild and reinvest in our safety net.
Suzan Bateson is executive director of Alameda County Community Food Bank.