Reality Check II: The Governor’s CalWORKs Proposals

Given the Governor’s recent media blitz against CalWORKs – the state’s welfare-to-work program – and his latest proposals to slash basic subsistence payments for hundreds of thousands of California’s poorest children, Californians could be forgiven for thinking that the CalWORKs Program is somehow contributing to the state’s budget problem.

It’s not.

As we noted yesterday, the number of families receiving CalWORKs cash aid has dropped by more than 400,000 since 1995. Here’s some more food for thought:

  • Total spending on “welfare” in California (including federal, state, and county funds) has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s, when cash assistance was provided under the former Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) Program. Total spending on welfare fell by nearly one-third (32 percent) between 1996-97 and 2008-09, after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, the total state budget (including state and federal funds) increased by 48 percent during the same period, after adjusting for inflation.
  • Welfare spending in California made up about 7 percent of the state budget in 1996-97. Today, it makes up about 3 percent.
  • A new fact sheet from the County Welfare Directors Association and the California State Association of Counties points out that CalWORKs has actually generated more than $12 billion in General Fund savings since CalWORKs was implemented in 1998. How? By shifting federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant funds as well as state matching funds from CalWORKs to other programs – as allowed by federal law – thereby “enabling the state to spend less General Fund.”

In short, CalWORKs has shrunk over the past decade. It has not contributed to the state’s budget woes. It has helped the state reduce General Fund spending and close past budget shortfalls. CalWORKs has given a lot, but it can’t give anymore without undermining the program’s basic purpose of reducing the number of children facing complete destitution and helping low-income families move toward self-sufficiency. Nonetheless, the Governor has dedicated himself to trying to squeeze more blood from this budgetary turnip.

— Scott Graves

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2 thoughts on “Reality Check II: The Governor’s CalWORKs Proposals

  1. I did know, from LOTS of looking around, that the budget cuts in Healthy Families and in Dept of Education subsidies for child care for WORKING Stage 2 and 3 CalWORKS participants (SO THEY CAN WORK!!!) are virtual drops in the bucket of the state’s total shortfall. I think it works out to less than $10/per capita, statewide. Even if only 1 in 5 would contribute, it would only take $50 apiece. (My bet is that participants would gladly pay that rather than lose their JOBS or their children’s health care!)

    But I had no idea that CalWORKS was such a small portion of the state budget! This is extremely important news!

    I plan on emailing the link to everyone I know, and I urge every Californian who reads this to do the same, along with a request to contact State legislators. What else can we do to get this info out into the public’s mind?

  2. “CalWORKs has actually generated more than $12 billion in General Fund savings since CalWORKs was implemented in 1998. How? By shifting federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant funds as well as state matching funds from CalWORKs to other programs – as allowed by federal law – thereby “enabling the state to spend less General Fund.””

    and is THIS the reason that child care subsidies are now threatened? Because the money was shifted to Education, which IS a large portion of the budget? If so, it looks like something many will have occasion to regret.

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