California to Repeal Rule Denying Cash Assistance to Thousands of Poor Children
UPDATE: CLASP is disappointed to report that the maximum family grant repeal was not included in the budget agreement announced by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 16, despite bicameral support in the state legislature. We will continue to partner with state and local advocates working to secure a stronger safety net for California's low-income families.
By Randi Hall
Within the upcoming weeks, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the California state budget which includes repeal of the maximum family grant (MFG) rule, which permanently denies cash assistance to babies born while a child is receiving CalWorks, California’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Both Subcommittees on Health and Human Services within the state Senate and Assembly recommended the MFG repeal in their respective versions of the budget. With over 27,000 California families sanctioned by the MFG rule in 2012, this repeal signals a victory for policymakers and state advocates promoting the well-being of over 140,000 of California’s children negatively impacted by the policy.
With California’s repeal of the MFG rule, also known as a “family cap,” just 15 states now have a family cap policy in place under their TANF program; a number of states that once included the cap have since worked towards repealing the law, such as Minnesota in 2013. Family cap policies have been promoted with the purpose of deterring the growth of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families receiving welfare benefits, based on the hypothesis that welfare recipients might intentionally conceive a child to receive an increased benefit, to become exempt from mandatory work requirements or activities, or to remain eligible for the program. However, these policies have been wholly ineffective in reducing birth rates among poor mothers in TANF.
Instead what family caps have done is exacerbate poverty and its long-term effects on children’s health and well-being. Studies indicate that a family cap significantly increases deep poverty rates among single mothers and their children by at least 12 percent. Without the MFG rule, most affected households in California would receive an additional $128 per month in assistance for a newborn child—hardly enough to meet an infant’s basic needs, but still an amount that would mitigate the financial burdens associated with deep poverty. In some circumstances, family cap policies can also result in a “zero-grant” situation which prevents a household that would be otherwise eligible to receive aid from doing so.
Repeal of the MFG has been a high priority for California anti-poverty advocates for years, and has drawn support from pro-life groups as well as those who advocate women’s reproductive choice. California's repeal of the MFG rule has been championed by Senator Holly Mitchell over the last three years, and has received essential support by Senate Pro Tem De Leon and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. CLASP strongly encourages Gov. Brown to accept the state budget with the MFG repeal in place, granting a much-needed reprieve for thousands of California's poor children and families.