The Senate Select Committee on Women and Inequality earlier this week convened to discuss strategies to address poverty among women and children in California. With Mother’s Day coming up, the timing of the hearing so close to this Sunday’s annual celebration is a great opportunity to highlight current legislation that would improve the lives of California’s mothers and their families:
- Repealing the “family cap.” California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), the state’s welfare-to-work program, provides modest cash assistance while helping families find and keep jobs. CalWORKs primarily supports children, but of the adults who also receive cash assistance the majority are women. Unfortunately, CalWORKs currently has a punitive provision that negatively affects mothers and their children: the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule, otherwise known as a “family cap.” The MFG denies additional cash assistance to families with children who are conceived and born while any member of the family is receiving assistance. The MFG rule was designed to limit the number of children born to women receiving cash assistance. However, research conducted in California and other states shows that family caps do not affect women’s decisions about whether or not to have children. In fact, the only effect of the family cap is to plunge children into even deeper poverty and restrict mothers’ ability to care for their kids. Senate Bill 23 (Mitchell) would repeal California’s MFG rule, providing desperately needed assistance to many of California’s low-income mothers and children.
- Raising California’s minimum wage. While current law calls for increasing the state’s minimum hourly wage from $9 to $10 on January 1, 2016, Senate Bill 3 (Leno) would boost the minimum wage even further by scheduling an increase from $9 to $11 in 2016 and then to $13 on July 1, 2017. Raising the minimum wage is important for women and their children. A single mother working full-time at the state minimum wage makes only $18,720 per year. This wage is not enough to lift a single mother with two children out of poverty, and it does not allow mothers to afford child care, pay the rent, and put food on the table without a great deal of struggle. Increasing the state minimum wage will go far in supporting mothers — and their families, too.
- Strengthening Paid Family Leave. Assembly Bill 908 (Gomez) would enhance California’s Paid Family Leave program by extending the duration of paid leave from six to 10 weeks, boosting paid leave benefits, and creating a minimum benefit level — all of which could help low-income mothers. Research shows that paid family leave increases women’s wages and reduces the likelihood of them receiving public assistance. Moreover, paid leave allows women to welcome a new baby into their homes or care for a sick child or relative, without having to worry about losing their job. This is important given that in 2013, nearly 60 percent of children in California — over 5 million children — lived in families where the mother works. California is one of only a few states that offer paid family leave. Yet by international standards, California and the nation lag far behind when it comes to family leave provisions — a situation that AB 908 would take a step toward addressing.
The policies highlighted here would promote women’s financial security, which in turn would help children and the economy, too. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s not forget about the policy choices our state could make this legislative session to improve the lives of women and their children.
— Kristin Schumacher