The Shriver Report – It’s Time to Invest in California Families
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It’s Time to Invest in California Families

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California has long been a leader in helping poor families. For over a century we’ve been committed to protecting vulnerable Californians by providing resources to keep them out of dire poverty and homelessness.

However, in 1994 as part of a budget package signed by Gov. Pete Wilson, we weakened our promise to reduce poverty by implementing the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule, an ineffective policy that denies resources to the poorest California families and ultimately increases costs to the state.

The MFG rule is not good policy—it is both damaging and ineffective. For two decades the MFG rule has pushed mothers and children to the brink of poverty and resulted in homelessness for some by denying a very small amount of cash assistance when they needed it most. This assistance is provided through The California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) and helps temporarily keep families in need stay afloat.

Not only does the MFG rule deny vital resources to children but also punishes poor women for their reproductive choices by withholding aid if they have more children. This policy has been in effect for 20 years and it hasn’t worked. It is time to eliminate this harmful, wasteful policy and re-establish programs that promote long-term stability and security for California families.

Coming of age in South Los Angeles, I’ve seen first hand how families in the throes of poverty struggle. They struggle to put food on the table, keep the lights on, and pay for basic needs like diapers and milk. This year we have an opportunity to change that for thousands of families in California.

In January, with the support of state advocates, I re-introduced legislation to repeal the MFG rule, and it passed through the Senate Human Services committee on April 9th with a 3-2 vote.

We’ve seen some tough times in California—we know that the job market is not as strong as it could be and that a weakened economy hits poor families the hardest. Today one in four children in our state is living in poverty. During tough times we count on carefully crafted social programs to serve, aid and protect needy and vulnerable children and adults because we know that helping families helps California.

Not all Californians are able to earn at the same level, but we should all share the basic right of determining when and how our families grow. Families should be able to make the best reproductive decisions for themselves, no matter their income. Opportunity should not be limited for the most vulnerable among us but the MFG rule does just that by forcing poor families to spread meager resources even thinner.

I, like you, know that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is a high quality early education, but when was the last time you tried concentrating on something when you haven’t eaten? We can’t expect our students to do well in school if their stomachs are empty.

Parents work hard to provide for their families but sometimes they need a little extra help. Programs like CalWORKS support families in times of need because all families deserve a fair chance to thrive. Providing California families with the resources they need helps us build stronger, healthier, happier families.

My duty, both as a member of the California State Senate and, more importantly, as a Californian, is to build the kind of communities where every child has an opportunity to grow, to continue to honor the necessity of critical services that lend a helping hand to those in need and to eliminate harmful, out-of-date policies that have been tested and simply do not work.

By repealing the Maximum Family Grant rule, by helping our neighbors keep their heads above water by giving a little help for a little while, we’re investing in California’s future and creating a better California for everyone.

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Sen. Holly J. Mitchell is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Senator Holly J. Mitchell serves in the California State Senate and represents the 26th district.
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