Painful Cuts to Low-Income Kids – Now What?

The reductions approved by the Legislature this week to help close the state’s massive budget shortfall will have a deep and lasting impact on Californians – from working families who need affordable child care to youth struggling to pay for college to people with disabilities hoping to live independently in their own homes. But perhaps no group of Californians has been more deeply affected than low-income families with children who rely on cash assistance from CalWORKs, the state’s welfare-to-work program, to help keep a roof over their heads.

The Legislature cut CalWORKs grants by 8 percent, which comes on top of a 4 percent reduction implemented in 2009. As a result, the maximum CalWORKs grant for a family of three in high-cost counties has dropped by $85 per month – from $723 in 2009 to $638, approximately the same amount ($633) that a family of three received in 1987, without adjusting for inflation. In addition, the Legislature cut “child-only” grants – those that are provided on behalf of children, but not their parents or guardians – by an additional 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on the length of time on aid. This additional cut would affect approximately 150,000 families with more than 300,000 children, according to state data. What’s more, nearly three-quarters of those families will face the maximum 15 percent reduction, which would be in addition to the 8 percent cut. Bottom line: More than 100,000 very low-income families will lose nearly one-quarter of the income that they rely on to pay the rent and buy clothing and other necessities. This translates into a loss of as much as $120 per month for a single parent with two children living in a high-cost county, such as Alameda or Los Angeles.

The Governor said the cuts needed to help bring the state budget into balance would be painful, and he was right. Now that the cuts have been made, we sincerely hope our elected leaders move just as quickly to implement the other half of a balanced solution by putting the Governor’s proposed temporary tax extensions before the voters and eliminating extremely costly and ineffective programs – with redevelopment and enterprise zones at the top of the list.

– Scott Graves

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