The litanies of budget cuts have droned on throughout the past two weeks of subcommittee hearings. In a recent hearing over a proposed $1.5 billion in cuts to CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program, things got a little more real.
It started with a finance department statistic that nine other states have imposed similar restrictions to the newly proposed 48-month time limit for benefits to adults and their children on CalWORKS. (That limit would end cash aid to about 5,500 families in California, and move up the clock for hundreds of thousands of others.)
“Well, other states spend less than us on education, too,” Assembly member Wesley Chesbro (D-Santa Rosa) said. “That’s not necessarily a model we want to strive for.”
But that may have been the last straw-man argument that broke the silence of the chair of the subcommittee, Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).
“Before we move on, I feel compelled to say, I have tried really hard this last week-and-a-half of hearings to function as a true facilitator as chair,” Mitchell said. “But after day 5 or 6 of these hearings, I’ve reached a point where I have to say something.”
And she did.
“When I think cumulatively of the testimony and all of the programs that are going to be severely cut — and clearly Californians will be harmed — I feelÂ compelled to say: We’re talking about eliminating a safety net program that will put hundreds of thousands of children at grave risk.”
Mitchell spoke in a level, matter-of-fact tone that carried the human weight of all of these hearings.
“When we talk really so casually of expecting a family of three to live on $600 a month, that is coupled with reductions to Medi-Cal, reductions to child care — and under the guise of, well, we are experiencing tough economic times, and under the suggestion that there’s no other option open to us — that is troubling to me,” Mitchell said.
“I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but we haven’t been talking about alleviating poverty here,” she said. “We’ve been talking about core services here, that are keeping people from dying.”
The CalWORKS cuts have three main components:
- Reducing the 60-month time limit to receive services to a 48-month time limit;
- Reducing grants by 13%; and
- Reducing county block grants for unemployment and childcare, and removing exemptions for those grants.
Those cuts save California $1.5 billion, or 25% of the CalWORKS budget. Part of the reason CalWORKS was targeted over some other service programs is because the cuts can be made without any loss in federal funding.
“This is a major change,” Todd Bland of the Legislative Analyst’s Office said, “removing children from cash assistance from the state. Though, should all of these proposals be adopted, California would continue to be one of seven states with a safety net.”