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Internship field report, Lina Grant @ California's Department of Finance HHS unit

September 19, 2017

Lina Grant  (MPP/REES MA'17) submitted this field report from her summer 2017 internship at California’s Department of Finance, in the Health and Human Services unit in Sacramento. 

This summer, I interned for the Health and Human Services (HHS) unit at California’s Department of Finance (Finance), based in Sacramento. Finance serves as the governor’s chief fiscal policy advisor and promotes long-term, economic sustainability and responsible resource allocation through the state’s annual financial plan. The department is organized by field areas called units, which include the Demographic Research Unit (DRU), the Education Services Unit (ESU), and the Office of State Audits and Evaluations unit (OSAE), among others. The HHS unit works primarily on policy issues associated with the Department of Public Health, the Department of Managed Health Care, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Health Care Services. Learning about the programs these departments administer gave me deeper insight into how essential public health and human services are to California’s residents.

After spending last summer working as an analyst for a federal agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, DC, I wanted to try my hand at state government for a change, to learn how state budgets are developed and how funds for different agencies and services are allocated. Given that I attended the University of California, San Diego as an undergraduate, I thought I’d head back to my alma mater’s state and learn how a budget for the country’s most populous state is developed.

As a member of HHS, my tasks at Finance were two-fold: first, I was to research and provide written policy recommendations for the state to address growing financial and policy concerns in light of potential federal health care reform. Secondly, I was to analyze legislation proposed by state senators and assembly members, providing comprehensive policy and fiscal impact analyses and recommendations for the governor’s office. For my research project, I focused on two policy areas at risk in the federal landscape—high-risk populations and essential health benefits. Individuals with chronic conditions have long faced constraints on health coverage and affordability, an issue attempted to be addressed by the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) implementation of community rating, whereby individuals with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage on the basis of prior health claims. Essential health benefits, or EHBs, were also introduced by the ACA as a mechanism for standardizing and expanding essential benefits in the individual and small group markets. My recommendations sought to relieve the state of financial risk while alleviating the growing concern of coverage and patient affordability.

In my other task—writing analyses on proposed legislation—I contributed valuable information on the fiscal impact of bills to Finance’s executive team and the governor’s office. For every bill I analyzed, I had to unpack a bill proponent’s conclusions, research the programmatic implications of the bill, and determine through relevant departmental inquiries if a bill had any impacts on the general fund, while also taking the analyses of the legislature’s own appropriations committees into account. The gathering of relevant information from a myriad of sources presented an exciting challenge, but the actual writing of analyses helped me put into practice what I had learned in Professor Alex Ralph’s policy writing course during my first semester.

In addition to exploring Sacramento on my own terms, I got to go on a site visit to a large California Highway Patrol (CHP) office, attend numerous legislative hearings at the State Capitol across the street, and learn about cap-and-trade, education policy concerns, and demographic research inquiries from both Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) brown bag lunches. Finance plays a key role in California’s government, and I feel privileged to have spent my summer learning the ins and outs of policy-making and priority-setting through the lens of a state’s budget development.

Lina Grant is pursuing dual master’s degrees in Public Policy and Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. Lina graduated from the University of California, San Diego and received a master’s degree in the history of art from Bryn Mawr College. Last summer, she completed a summer internship at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, DC. Prior to graduate studies at Michigan, she worked for Southwest Economic Solutions, an economic development agency based in southwest Detroit. She is interested in the history of U.S. immigration, Russian politics, and government performance and accountability.