June 20, 2013
LAWT News Service
Sacramento – The Legislature has voted to increase basic CalWORKs grants by 5%, reversing a trend of annual cuts in aid to California’s neediest families since 2007 which Assemblymember Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), primary advocate for the increase, had argued was pushing too many children into deep poverty with irreversible impacts.
“This is a measured first step in our effort to reduce poverty in California, and it comes at the expense of no other program,” said Assemblywoman Mitchell, whose district includes low-income areas in south Los Angeles. “If you care at all about freeing children from the strangling yoke of poverty, this vote was the opportunity to join the freedom march.”
While supporting Governor Brown’s proposal to spend extra budget dollars on K-12 education in low-performing schools, Mitchell, who chairs the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, argued for targeting state aid to meet other basic needs of children. Four out of five CalWORKs beneficiaries are children, yet the basic benefit equals only 39% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), despite the fact that 50% of FPL is the “deep poverty” threshold associated with life-long adversity. Initially seeking a 12% CalWORKs raise, Mitchell, welcomed the 5% increase approved in AB 85 as part of the final compromise on the 2013-14 budget adopted June 15.
“The maximum benefit for which a CalWORKs family can qualify now is $7,600 for up to two years – less than half of the Federal Poverty Level at $19,000,” the Assemblywoman pointed out. “Children can’t come to school ready to learn when their minimal needs go unmet, and most students in the state’s low-performing schools are poor. Poverty is toxic to our kids.”
AB 85 was one of several recommendations put forth by the Assemblywoman to increase support for families struggling with deep poverty. Dubbed the “Mitchell Plan” by advocates for needy families (see attachment), other elements of the plan, advanced by the Budget Subcommittee, were improved welfare to work and homeless assistance services, childcare subsidies, and an increase in the allowed value of vehicles owned by CalWORKs’ recipients.
AB 85 and the other budget bills now proceed to the Governor for signature.