California is in an economic state of emergency. With a punishing budget deficit, spending cuts and policy reform have become a necessity. In Governor Schwarzenegger’s amended budget plan, the governor and his administration have proposed drastic fiscal reductions to social welfare programs such as CALWORKs, Medi-Cal, and Child Care Assistance. These proposed cuts offer immediate relief to an ailing California economy. However, this temporary relief comes at the expense of thousands of struggling families trying to make it through the worst economic fiasco they’ve seen in their lifetime. Contrary to the governor’s short-term fix, California must look towards an alternate resolution, in the mode of long term policy reform.
In the 2010-2011 year, funding to Health and Human Services programs in California will be reduced by about 8%, or $2.9 billion. The burden of this budget trimming will fall primarily upon families and children enrolled in welfare programs such as California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKs. In January of 2009, recipients of cash grants through the CalWORKs program received $723 per month for a two parent family of three. In the governor’s budget for 2010-2011, this cash grant has been reduced to $585, roughly $138 less per child, per month. The reduction represents a 15.7% drop in funds per month in cash assistance to each family. While $138 per month to most Californians may not be life changing, to those receiving welfare it certainly is.
Major decreases are not limited to solely the CalWORKs program. Over the course of this year, the governor’s budget will work to slash the open availability of Medi-Cal and Child Care Assistance programs. Although California runs one of the least expensive Medicaid programs in the nation, Medi-Cal will undergo a $750 million cut to alleviate swelling cost services and increased patient numbers. The budget proposal states that monthly premiums and co-pays will also likely rise. California is also moving toward reducing the amount of grants it allows for Child Care services. Under the current system, welfare beneficiaries enrolled in the CalWORKs program receive day care services with California picking up most of the tab. In 2010-2011, the governor wants to move away from this current policy, inevitably placing the burden back on the parents.
These short term solutions will work to temporarily ease California’s economic stress. But, let’s look at these suggested solutions in more detail. Individuals on welfare will be receiving less money in the form of cash grants, a decrease of roughly 15.7% less per month. Co-pays and premiums for health coverage will rise, and Medi-cal funding will be reduced by $750 million. And, California will begin to scale back the amount of money it pays in aid for Child Care Assistance. Welfare is supposed to help people get back on their feet. On the contrary, these cutbacks will only work to keep needy families from getting back to where they want to be.
Long term solutions must be adopted to help fix the current situation. Instead of slashing funding and raising costs, California should focus on policy which rewards those on welfare who follow the guidelines, and penalize those who don’t. The recent influx of applications and cases due to the sour economy has meant the government is simply incapable of providing the attention to detail that this program needs to succeed. A lack of caseworkers, institutional inefficiencies, and a decentralized and aged Health and Human Services Department has lead to the situation we’ve arrived at today. New policy must reflect a focus on functioning government institutions and their ability to successfully run these programs, rather than penalizing honest families trying to gain their independence from welfare.
Ironically, the governor’s proposed amended budget states, "The Governor’s budget contains significant reductions necessary to address the continuing fiscal crisis while maintaining essential services for children, seniors, and persons with disabilities."
California is addressing the fiscal crisis. They are not, however, maintaining essential services for children or families on welfare. Whether you believe welfare is necessary or not, we can all agree it is a problem. It’s time for this state to step up and offer real solutions to real problems.