Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Schwarzenegger’s Bid to Slice California Welfare Is Among Many State Welfare Changes

June 01, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed the elimination of CalWORKs, the state’s work-to-welfare program for the poorest of families. Other states are dealing with their own welfare crunches.

California May Eliminate Health Care for Children from Lower-Income Households

California’s budget has been so hammered by the recession that the state’s coffers, already posting a deficit of $24.3 billion, are on track to run dry by July. State income tax refund checks have been delayed and higher education budgets reduced. State employees, with the exception of legislators and court workers, are facing a 5 percent cut in pay as part of a $3 billion budget cut announced Thursday, on top of another $5.5 billion sliced out of the California state financial plan two days earlier.

Spending cuts for essential programs are known for their endemic sting. But few have been as controversial as Schwarzenegger’s proposal to drop the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKs, program, which offers families a 60-month lifetime limit of welfare benefits on the condition that families pursue employment. Cash payments under CalWORKs average some $526 per family, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The paper reports, should her monthly CalWORKs check disappear, Michelle, a 26-year-old single mother in San Jose, Calif., would not be able to afford diapers, rent and child care, which allows her to attend a community college—a step toward financial independence.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal, which is facing bipartisan resistance, also entails rejecting $3.7 billion in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grants, which would spare California $1.8 billion in matching funds, yet the state would lose $600 million in money from the federal stimulus package.

Also at peril is the state’s Healthy Families program, which subsidizes medical, dental and vision care for some 900,000 California children whose families make between $22,050 and $55,125. Cutting the program would save the state $305 million in 2009-10, according to The Sacramento Bee.

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Background: State welfare sees overhaul

Minnesota faces a similar budget conundrum with MinnesotaCare, a state-funded program that offers health funding assistance to families whose income is just enough to make them ineligible for purely federal programs, although some program participants are parents of recipients of funding from the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), jointly administered by the state and federal government. As their families were beneficiaries of federal programs for children, adults in that situation were at risk of losing their benefits. Minnesota’s congressional delegation was pushing the Bush administration to pass a waiver last fall.

Come May 2009, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed a budget cut that would see the elimination of MinnesotaCare benefits for some 55,000 people.

The number of people in the United States on welfare, food stamps and government unemployment benefits has increased dramatically. Case in point: in December 2008, as many as 31.7 million Americans were on food stamps, up from 27.5 million a year earlier, according to statistics from The Associated Press cited by findingDulcinea.

With the greater strain on government budgets has come increased scrutiny on tax-dollar trajectories. To this end, West Virginia’s legislature is among those of several states that have proposed legislation stipulating drug tests for welfare recipients. “If so many jobs require random drug tests these days, why not these benefits?” West Virginia Republican state legislator Craig Blair was quoted as saying in the AP by findingDulcinea.

Louisiana is among the other states considering mandatory drug testing for those on welfare. The state House’s Health and Welfare Committee approved to push through legislation requiring mothers receiving benefits under the state’s Temporary Assistance Program, also known as FITAP to undergo drug testing. Under the bill, supported by Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo, any mothers who test positive for drug use must either undergo treatment or lose their benefits. According to the AP, present Louisiana state law puts drug testing for welfare recipients at the discretion of the state’s Department of Social Services.

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