The Terminator

Posted: June 10, 2009 in Justice

So here I am in my second week of working as an advocate for the poor, and while I’m learning the ropes, important people are deciding whether to nix the pitiful benefits desperately poor Californians rely on. Simply tragic.

I guess you’ve heard that California is having a budget crisis, but if the Governator’s plan survives, then “crisis” is far too mild a word to use for what the poor will be facing. And I can tell you this, they don’t even know what’s coming.

CalWorks is on the chopping block (welfare for families). So is a program offering the tiniest help to the very few immigrants it’s okay for the government to help anymore. Also a program that keeps the poor elderly/disabled out of institutions by providing them with some in-home care (with the HUGE irony being that most of these workers are poor people trying to earn a living – they’ll be losing their jobs now, too).

Simply tragic.

You know, if we knew a family that decided they were going to have to cut back on food consumption and chose to quit feeding the babies as a solution, I think we’d be a little perturbed. But that’s exactly what’s on the table in California.

And why cut out the desperately pooor? C’mon you know why. If the rest of us had to pay more taxes or lose our benefits, we’d throw a fit and kick those guys and gals out of office! But the desperately poor don’t have a voice.

Well, I have a voice. Maybe I should use it.


Here’s the sad article from The Sacramento Bee:

Budget plan could doom CalWORKS aid to families, children
By Cynthia Hubert
Published: Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

Could California become the first state in the nation to do away with welfare?

That doomsday scenario is on the table as lawmakers wrestle with a staggering $24.3 billion budget deficit.

County welfare directors are “in shock” at the very idea of getting rid of CalWORKs, which has been widely viewed as one of the most successful social programs in the state’s history, said Bruce Wagstaff, director of the Department of Human Assistance in Sacramento.

“It’s difficult to come up with the right adjective to react to this,” Wagstaff said. “It would be devastating to the people we serve.”

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said California is in an unprecedented fiscal situation that has made all programs, from education to human services, vulnerable to deep and painful reductions.

“I don’t wish for a moment to minimize the profound impact” that eliminating CalWORKs would have, Palmer said. “But the easy decisions are way past being in the rearview mirror for us. We face the specter of California not having cash on hand to pay its bills in July.”

Wagstaff and other administrators are betting that the state will rescue the “welfare to work” program. But they are bracing for cuts that would slash benefits to the lowest levels since the late 1990s, when CalWORKs began as part of the federal government’s bold reform of the welfare system.

“It would be a huge regression,” said Nancy O’Hara, assistant director of the Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services. “My mind reels just thinking about all of this.”

California would save $157 million in the general fund by cutting CalWORKs altogether, according to the County Welfare Directors Association. But the group warns that the state would lose some $620 million in federal funds for the program. Palmer put the projected federal loss much higher, at $3.7 billion.

The association argues that eliminating CalWORKs would force thousands of families into homelessness, hurt the state economically and put added pressure on already strapped county assistance programs.

“No other state has eliminated all aid to dependent children, and no other First World country that we are aware of has no safety net for poor families,” said Frank Mecca, the group’s executive director. “There really is no fallback, especially given the financial condition that most counties are in.”

O’Hara predicted higher rates of child abuse and abandonment if CalWORKs were to disappear.

“I can see it happening, like it did during the Great Depression when people could no longer provide for their children,” O’Hara said. “I have not allowed myself to think about it in detail. I’m holding out hope that this won’t happen.”

CalWORKs, which replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children in California, serves some 525,000 families each month, Mecca said. Welfare caseloads have dropped by half since its inception, he said, although recently they have begun to creep up again because of the wobbly economy.

“CalWORKs represents a real cultural change in the way welfare programs operate, and it’s worked. It has proven to be a success,” Wagstaff said. “People have gotten jobs. We have seen good outcomes for kids. Poverty rates have gone down. It’s almost unthinkable to imagine taking this step backwards.”

In Sacramento County, 33,500 families receive CalWORKs benefits, including more than 62,000 children, Wagstaff said. A family of three gets a monthly check of $689, plus food stamps. But CalWORKs does more than simply issue checks, he pointed out. It helps people, many of whom have depended on public assistance for years, learn new skills and get jobs, with subsidies for child care.

“Even as the unemployment rate was going up, we were still putting thousands of people to work,” said Wagstaff. “I would argue that when the economy is down, the need for these kinds of services is higher than ever.”

Roxanne Morales, 44, lived off welfare “for many years” and credits CalWORKs with turning her life around.

When she learned more than a decade ago that the rules for welfare were changing and she would have to get a job or go to school to retain her benefits, Morales panicked.

“I had my first child at 16,” she said. “I had never had a job before. I had no clue. But they pushed me, and I am ever so glad they did.”

Today Morales has risen from customer service representative to field supervisor at Maximus Inc., which helps state and local governments manage programs such as Medi-Cal. She is financially independent and happy, she said.

“I would not be in this position today if not for CalWORKs,” said Morales. “There is no way they can eliminate this program.”

Wagstaff, who helped craft CalWORKs, said he is confident it will survive. “We have no instructions from anyone about shutting it down,” he said. “But something big likely is going to happen.”

Mecca agreed.

“It’s been gratifying to hear from people on both sides of the aisle that eliminating CalWORKs would be unacceptable,” said Mecca. “But the magnitude of the state’s fiscal problems and the politics in Sacramento are such that we have to take every proposal seriously.”

An earlier state budget proposal called for a 6 percent cut in CalWORKs grants, on top of a 4 percent cut scheduled to take effect July 1. It would have eliminated aid to children whose parents are being cut off because they’ve reached their 60-month time limits for welfare assistance, among other things.

Those cuts might seem palatable next to a proposal to eliminate CalWORKs entirely, Mecca said.

“There is a prevailing view that folks are being softened up for very serious, but less egregious, cuts,” he said. “But if that’s the strategy, it’s reckless and irresponsible.”

Palmer said the proposal is no bluff.

“This is not a test,” he said.

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