Countdown to May Revise: The $8 Billion Impact of Recent Cuts to CalWORKs and SSI/SSP

In response to sizeable budget shortfalls, lawmakers have repeatedly cut state spending in recent years. For confirmation, Californians need look no further than CalWORKs and SSI/SSP, the state’s primary safety-net programs for low-income kids, seniors, and people with disabilities. New CBP county fact sheets show that the cumulative impact of cuts made to CalWORKs and SSI/SSP amounts to more than $8 billion between 2008-09 and 2011-12. The reduction to CalWORKs during this period – $3.5 billion – is equivalent to a loss of roughly $3,100 for each of the 1.1 million children in the program, while the cut to SSI/SSP – $4.6 billion – equates to a loss of about $3,600 for each of the nearly 1.3 million seniors and people with disabilities who receive cash assistance.

As our fact sheets explain, state lawmakers have not only suspended cost-of-living adjustments for cash assistance – a well-worn budget “solution” that keeps grants from increasing to keep pace with inflation – but have ventured into new territory by making deep grant cuts and reversing longstanding policies, including those designed to protect children and help parents successfully move into the workforce. For example, the Legislature cut the maximum monthly CalWORKs grant for a family of three in high-cost counties from $723 in 2007-08 to $638 in 2011-12, an $85-per-month reduction. The Legislature also cut CalWORKs grants by up to an additional 15 percent for many families who receive “child-only” cash assistance, including families in which a parent has “timed off” aid, but the children continue to receive subsistence payments. The loss of funds due to these and other CalWORKs cuts will disproportionately affect California’s high-cost – mainly coastal – counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, and San Francisco, because that’s where more than half (55.4 percent) of CalWORKs families live.

Combined, recent cuts have left CalWORKs and SSI/SSP ill-equipped to cope with the ongoing impact of the Great Recession and the challenges of a growing and aging population. California is at a crossroads; a balanced approach that couples recently enacted spending cuts with additional revenues is the only way to preserve the public structures essential to California’s prosperity.

—Scott Graves and Vicky Lovell