Sacramento – Introducing her first bill as a member of the California Senate, SB899 by Holly J. Mitchell (D-South Los Angeles) would repeal the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule in the CalWORKs program.
CalWORKs benefits are normally based, in part, on the number of family members in a household and their living costs – but when a child is born into a family that is already receiving those benefits it is illegal to increase aid.
"The cap makes poverty worse by forcing families to spread meager resources even thinner," maintained Senator Mitchell, sworn into the Senate in September following a special election. Her district includes parts of south Los Angeles which have high CalWORKs caseloads. She also serves Culver City.
"In these hard times the state shouldn't insert itself into the private reproductive and medical decisions of low-income families just because they need basic assistance for their children."
The MFG policy was first put forth in Proposition 165, a welfare reform and budget powers initiative placed on the ballot in 1992 and rejected by voters, 54-46%. Nonetheless as part of the budget package signed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994, the MFG policy became law.
In the 15 years since the family cap became state policy, there is still no evidence that it has worked to disincentivize welfare abuse or to slow the birth rates of affected families. Yet one out of six Californians lived in poverty as of 2011, including nearly one out of four of the children in the state. Children in poverty are statistically more likely to experience homelessness and hunger, become teen parents, or become victims of crime and sex trafficking. Research underscores the biological and economic costs of failing to intervene and prevent the negative impacts of poverty early in children's lives.
"The assumption that poor mothers have more children to get an extra 'government hand-out' averaging $122 a month says more about the failure to grasp the high costs of child-rearing than about any failure of personal responsibility, and it's tragic that state policy perpetuates the myth," said Mitchell. "It's time we stopped making poverty worse for children in a misguided attempt to punish their Moms."
Senator Mitchell carried a similar bill, AB271, while serving in the Assembly last year where it secured passage before being held in the Senate, where SB899 now begins its legislative course.