California sexual and reproductive health organizations were dismayed to find that Gov. Jerry Brown’s $170.7 billion budget proposal includes the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule, which advocates say penalizes children and pushes poor families deeper into poverty.
Myra Duran, policy manager at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), told Rewire the rule is racist, sexist, and classist.
The MFG rule is an element of CalWORKs, California’s version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that provides cash support to low-income expectant and recent mothers. The MFG rule was included in 1994 with the goal of coercing poor mothers, primarily women of color, into having fewer children by barring families who are already receiving CalWORKs assistance from obtaining $122 in additional support for any new child they may have.
In other words, the amount a family receives in assistance remains unchanged if they have additional children.
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California is one of 15 states with rules, also known as “family caps,” that penalize low-income families for having children. Family caps were designed to discourage low-income mothers from having children, as Slate reported last year. The caps had another purpose: combating the myth of the “welfare queen,” welfare recipient mothers who have additional children in order to receive more aid.
Duran said CLRJ began doing budget work because the recession in California has had an outsized impact on communities of color and Latinas in particular, who are often their families’ caretakers and coordinators for obtaining services.
Working to repeal the MFG rule has meant using the California budget as a crucial point for advocacy.
“The budget is a great way to convey our values as a state,” Duran said. “The budget is also a great way to see where your state is at when it comes to valuing people of color and especially women of color, and the state of California does not value women of color. We [CLRJ] strongly believe this [the MFG rule] is a form of population control; it’s a form of eugenics. It’s really harmful for a state policy to say, ‘You can’t have any more children unless you meet these exemptions.’ That’s telling poor women, most of whom are women of color who are on CalWORKs, that the state has the power to control their childbearing decisions.”
Studies confirm family caps don’t achieve their intended goal of deterring childbearing among poor women and girls. Evidence also shows that policies like California’s MFG rule cause lasting harm to children. In California, SB 23, an attempt to repeal the MFG rule, is under consideration in the Democratic-controlled assembly. The bill is the third attempt to rescind the law.
When it comes to family caps, California finds itself in the company of multiple states that are the worst for reproductive rights, including Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, among others.
“It’s very interesting to see California in this lineup because as a state, we are part of national discussions on policies when it comes to reproductive health and rights. There’s an assumption that in California, we’re leaders. We’re doing proactive work, we recently passed a proactive abortion bill—that’s where the energy lies when people talk about California, but it’s not reality for many,” Duran said.
“Proactive, progressive policies don’t trickle down to our families and communities,” Duran continued. “We see this with health care, we see this with access to abortion, and we see this with the family cap rule. We talk a lot about autonomy when it comes to family formation, but in California because of this policy, poor women of color do not have bodily autonomy.”
The only exceptions to the MFG rule are rape, incest, and the failure of certain long-acting contraceptives, but only when the contraceptive used was an intrauterine device (IUD), Norplant (which has been off the market in the United States since 1992), or if either parent is sterilized.
This means mothers must share private information about their contraceptive usage with the government and parents on CalWORKs are forced to select contraceptives based on potential future CalWORKs eligibility, as the ACLU reported. Failing to disclose sensitive information about rape or contraceptive use results in children being excluded from the basic needs grant.
“One in four children in California lives in poverty. This, one of the country’s richest states. What does that say about where our interests are?” Duran said. “This [policy] demonizes poor women of color. Rape and incest survivors must prove, on paper, what happened to them if they want additional aid for their children. That also means placing them in front of police officers. These systems are not to the benefit of people in communities of color and forcing them to go through this is wrong and harmful.”