(Editor’s note: our readers asked me last week to segment the Monday Morning Thoughts column into separate parts, and I have obliged)
In recent years we have seen a slow but growing shift in the political arena. First it started in the criminal justice system as a series of reforms in California and across the country spawned by the exploding problem of mass incarceration which has led to reforms like AB 109 (realignment) and now Prop 47, among other local reforms. Concurrently, the work of groups like the Innocence Project have exposed problems in the justice system that lead to innocent people being incarcerated, in many cases for decades.
Now a rising concern about poverty may push the California legislature to finally move to end the so-called “maximum family grant” rule or the “welfare queen” rule that bars families that have additional children while on welfare from receiving increased aid.
An article in the Bee today, referring to Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, says, “She points to a UC Berkeley brief on the topic that found such family caps don’t alter reproductive behavior.”
“It is a classist, sexist, anti-democratic, anti-child, anti-family policy whose premise did not come to fruition,” said Mitchell, the author of Senate Bill 23. “It did not accomplish what it set out to accomplish. So it’s appropriate to take it off the books.”
We are talking about an additional $130 per child per month.
In the SB 23 “fact sheet” that was put out by the Office of Senator Mitchell in December, they note, “The CalWORKs MFG rule endangers the health and wellbeing of infants born into poverty, while purposely limiting the reproductive choices and violating the privacy of poor women. It does this by prohibiting parents receiving assistance through the CalWORKs program to receive a basic needs grant for any child born to the household while any member of the household is receiving aid. Without the MFG rule, the amount most households would receive in additional benefits for the newborn child is $122/month.”
They note, “Even without the denial of aid to newborns, most recipient households live in dire poverty, unable to obtain the basic necessities of life. Research indicates that preventing families from receiving basic necessities by reducing welfare benefits could lead to greater familial poverty, which in turn contributes to poorer health, developmental, and social outcomes in children.”
Critics rightly point out that the additional money will not lift aid recipients out of poverty.
The Bee quotes Mary L.G. Theroux, senior vice president of The Independent Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Oakland, who doesn’t dispute that the law fails to prevent births.
“The opportunity cost of them having another kid is not going to stop them from doing it,” she said. But she said that, as the Bee notes, “financial constraints give growing families incentives to get help from charities, relatives or find higher-paying jobs.”
“What these programs are doing is completely handicapping people from learning how to take care of their families and how to help their children have a better life than they do,” she said.
Republicans like Bob Huff, the Senate leader, argue that “helping families in poverty is an important role for officials in government as well as people outside. The issue is whether repealing the maximum grant is the best use of money.”
“Putting $200 million into an effective job training program or providing child care for working mothers would be a better use of resources,” Senator Huff said.
At least we are having a fact-based discussion right now and the best use of money is definitely an important issue to be determined.
The current law was adopted prior to federal welfare reform by AB 473, authored by Republican leader Jim Brulte, signed by Governor Wilson in 1994, after California voters rejected a ballot measure calling for a similar policy. According to Senator Mitchell’s office, “California is one of only 15 states to maintain such a policy. There is a movement from states to repeal similar policies: Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas and Maryland have recently repealed their family caps, recognizing that it does not serve its stated purpose and instead makes infants vulnerable to the long-term consequences of poverty.”
They say, “The CalWORKs program provides a basic needs cash grants to low-income families with children, to alleviate the impact of poverty on children and to keep families together. Federal funding for the program comes from the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) block grant. The program serves 3.6%3 of the state’s population, just a fraction of Californians who live below the federal poverty level (FPL). The average CalWORKs family grant is $464/month, putting a family of 3 at about 29% of the FPL.”