Editorials

Finally, an end to an ineffective and humiliating welfare law

California state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, addresses the Senate. As part of a budget deal reached last week with Democratic legislative leaders, Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to repeal the two-decade old decision to limit welfare benefits for families that conceive additional children while receiving state aid. Mitchell has led the legislative effort to overturn the so-called maximum family grant.
California state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, addresses the Senate. As part of a budget deal reached last week with Democratic legislative leaders, Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to repeal the two-decade old decision to limit welfare benefits for families that conceive additional children while receiving state aid. Mitchell has led the legislative effort to overturn the so-called maximum family grant. AP

At long last, California is doing away with one of this state’s crueler laws, one that punishes poor women for getting pregnant and worsens their poverty. This week brought good news for struggling Californians: The maximum family grant is finally going away.

Good for state lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown for finding a fiscally workable way to do away with the insulting restriction denying additional aid to the children of women who got pregnant while receiving CalWORKs assistance.

Under the antiquated law, women could only seek an exemption by proving their child was either a product of rape or incest, or the result of a failed government-approved form of birth control or sterilization. All this, just to receive a few meager crumbs – about $130 per month. That’s barely enough to feed and clothe a newborn.

Even more degrading than the policy was its rationale. Passed in 1994 by Gov. Pete Wilson, it stemmed from the Reagan-era myth of the so-called “welfare queen,” a fictitious woman who pumped out child after child to rack up cash benefits from the government.

This misinformed image has done nothing to stop poverty. And despite its general intent – to make government smaller – the policy actually invited government to intrude into the most intimate of decisions, forcing women to disclose their methods of birth control and inform government agents how they became pregnant.

We particularly applaud Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who for years pushed tirelessly to terminate the maximum family grant rule.

Studies have since shown that punishing women for having children, not to mention embarrassing them, doesn't deter low-income women from having children. And it distracts from the real question: How do we best lift families out of poverty?

We agree with the members of the legislative women’s caucus and their leader, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson. They, along with Senate and Assembly leaders, have pushed for a package of reforms, ranging from a higher minimum wage to paid family leave to increased funding for subsidized child care. As lawmakers prepare to vote on next year’s state budget, families can cheer some dramatic improvements, including a deal to shore up child care reimbursements and add thousands of slots for full-day preschool in coming years.

And we particularly applaud Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who for years worked tirelessly to terminate the maximum family grant rule. Thanks to her persistence, and the cooperation of Brown’s finance people, lawmakers found a way to pay the annual $210 million cost of the fix without dipping too deeply into the general fund over the long term. Over time, the cost will be transferred onto an account designated to fund annual inflation increases in welfare.

“I am thrilled that the state has acknowledged its error in creating a policy in 1994 that has done nothing but force families living in deep poverty into deeper poverty,” Mitchell told a member of The Bee’s editorial board.

That acknowledgment is worth every penny. Shaming this state’s impoverished women and children is hardly a reflection of our values, and putting a stop to it is long overdue.

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