Hearing Asks if CalWORKs is an Effective Safety Net for Children in Poverty
SACRAMENTO – CalWORKs recipients, program staff and policy experts painted a complex picture of child poverty and how CalWORKs functions to deter and relieve it at a legislative hearing. Assemblywoman Holly J. Mitchell presided at the hearing, being joined by Assemblymen Wesley Chesbro, Felipe Fuentes and Richard Pan.
Following Thursday's hearing, entitled CalWORKs: Program Overview, Recipients, and Current Status held in the state Capitol by the Budget Subcommittee on Health & Human Services, the subcommittee's chair, Assemblymember Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), concluded, We have to do better, we have to find ways to make progress even in an unforgiving economy and a divided Legislature. A broke state is not an excuse to abandon children or families.
Hearing testimony documented the deleterious effects of poverty on the wellbeing of children, as well as highlighting the success of CalWORKs in providing strategic support to many, including teen moms and the newly unemployed. But a recurrent theme was the detrimental impact of cuts to grants and supportive services, and disinvestment in projects that support families in achieving self-sufficiency despite track records of success.
After working as a CNA in Texas, I didn't plan on being unemployed raising my baby Jabril. I am only getting $300 month so I have to decide on diapers or bus fare for interviews, said CalWORKs beneficiary, Sharita Williams. My older son Baxter graduated from high school and was attending city college. I didn't want him to, but he dropped out to help me and his baby brother.
Phil Ansell, Acting Chief Deputy Director, L.A. County Dept. of Public Social Services testified that CalWORKs recipients use the vast majority of their grants to pay for housing and early data shows the new 48 month time limit and the 8% grant cut are already exacerbating homelessness among CalWORKs recipients.
Reflecting the tenor of the hearing testimony, Mitchell summarized her commitments as Chair of Subcommittee 1:
- As we approach next year's budget we will do analysis of the cuts that have been made and their impacts on children and families.
- I am committed to findings ways to increase grant levels and sustain programs which have proven their success, such as Cal-Learn, CalWORKs programs at our community colleges and the supportive services provided by counties such as child care, homeless prevention, and subsidized employment programs.
- We must change the perception of CalWORKs among the public and my peers. It became clear in this hearing that an adequately funded CalWORKs program will help alleviate our appalling statistics on poverty. I will challenge the negative persona of CalWORKs every opportunity I get and I call on you to do the same in your communities. We can do better.
Sub 1 Budget Hearing on CalWORKs Panelists with Reading Materials:
- Phil Ansell, Acting Chief Deputy Director, L.A. County Dept. of Public Social Services
- Jill Duerr Berrick, Professor, School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley
- Scott Graves, California Budget Project
- Susan Sweeney, President, California Community Colleges CalWORKs Association
- Carey Apparcel and Sharita Williams, CalWORKs Recipients
- Kevin Aslanian, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations
- Michael Bolden, Service Employees International Union
- Mike Herald, Western Center on Law and Poverty
- Carla Hill, Manager, Project NATEEN, Children's Hospital Los Angeles
- Will Lightbourne, Director, California Department of Social Services
- Bruce Wagstaff, Administrator, Countywide Services Agency, Sacramento County
Contact: Charles Stewart, 310/342-1070, 310/251-4567