News Law and Policy

California Bill Would Repeal ‘Classist, Sexist’ Public Benefit Rule

Nina Liss-Schultz

California lawmakers are once again looking to repeal a provision of the state’s welfare program that denies additional assistance to women whose family size increases while they are receiving benefits.

California lawmakers are once again looking to repeal a provision of the state’s welfare program that denies additional assistance to women whose family size increases while they are receiving benefits.

Passed 20 years ago amid Clinton-era welfare changes, the provision, called the Maximum Family Grant Rule (MFG), bars low-income women and families from receiving increases in welfare benefits, known in the state as CalWORKs, if they have another child.

The bill is meant to discourage low-income women, often people of color, from having children by denying them public assistance. Exclusions to the rule are made for cases of rape and the failures of certain contraceptives.

SB 23, introduced in December by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would repeal the the MFG Rule and prohibit the denial of increased welfare benefits based on the number of children in a family.

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“I call on my colleagues in the Legislature and Governor Brown to end the Maximum Family Grant Rule, which endangers the health and wellbeing of babies born into poverty by denying families the minimum CalWORKs benefit needed for infant care,” Mitchell said.

“It is a classist, sexist, anti-democratic, anti-child, anti-family policy whose premise did not come to fruition,” Mitchell told the Sacramento Bee. “It did not accomplish what it set out to accomplish. So it’s appropriate to take it off the books.”

Evidence suggests that family cap laws like the one in California don’t dissuade people from having a child. And what’s more, poor women don’t have more children in their families than women with higher incomes. This proves false the myth of the so-called welfare queen, who—according to those against strong benefits programs—uses public money to support risky sexual and economic decisions.

In 2013, the average CalWORKS family grant was $464 per month, “putting a family of three at only 29 percent of the Federal Poverty Level,” according to a UC Berkeley brief. The brief noted that family caps contribute to worse health and social outcomes for children. California has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the nation.

The California law has remained on the books for two decades, despite all the evidence against it and two prior attempts by state Mitchell to repeal it.

Mitchell is also seeking to expand CalWORKS funding by more than $200 million, a push that has the support of the state’s Democratic caucus this year.

SB 23 was passed by the state senate last week and is now being considered by the assembly.

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