Ending CalWORKs as We Know It?

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, California’s families face the toughest job market in decades. The state’s unemployment rate, currently 11.1 percent, is projected to remain in double digits through 2014. Nearly 1 million Californians have been without work for six months or longer – seven times higher than before the downturn began. Nearly one-quarter of California’s children (23.4 percent) were living in poverty in 2010, up from 17.9 percent in 2007. Moreover, the recession hit single mothers and their families particularly hard, as we show in this chart. The share of California’s single mothers with jobs dropped from a recent peak of 69.2 percent in 2007 to 58.8 percent in 2010. In just three years, the downturn erased all of the employment gains that single mothers made following implementation of welfare reform in the 1990s.

Given this grim landscape, CalWORKs – a key part of the state’s safety net for low-income families with children – is more important than ever for the 1.4 million Californians in the program, more than three out of four of whom are children. While state policymakers have made deep cuts to CalWORKs in recent years to help close budget gaps, the basic foundation – welfare-to-work services and modest cash assistance – remains intact. The Governor, however, proposes to blow apart that foundation with even deeper cuts, including reducing parents’ access to welfare-to-work services and dramatically cutting or eliminating cash assistance for more than 430,000 families – nearly three out of four families currently in the program. These changes would cut spending on CalWORKs by roughly $1 billion in 2012-13, providing more than 9 percent of the Governor’s proposed “solutions” to the state’s budget gap even though CalWORKs accounts for less than 3 percent of the state budget, as we show in a new report released this week.

The Governor’s proposal will receive a full airing in the Legislature this afternoon and tomorrow. Assembly Budget Subcommittee #1 on Health and Human Services will review the CalWORKs proposal today at 1:30 p.m., and the full Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee will hear the proposal tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

— Scott Graves