California to Cut CalWORKS Welfare Program?
California is considering axing their state welfare program, in the face of a $24.3 billion budget deficit.
Welfare directors are "in shock", reports The Sacramento Bee, in particular because the program, CalWORKS, is considered one of the most successful social programs in the history of California.
"It's difficult to come up with the right adjective to react to this," [Sacramento Department of Human Assistance director Bruce] Wagstaff said. "It would be devastating to the people we serve."
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said California is in an unprecedented fiscal situation that has made all programs, from education to human services, vulnerable to deep and painful reductions.
According to Palmer, California is "way past" the point of making easy decisions and is in danger of not being able to meet its expenses this upcoming July.
Cutting CalWORKS may give the state $157 million in general funds, said the County Welfare Directors Association, but may lose the state about $620 million in federal funds, or up to $3.7 billion.
The association argues that eliminating CalWORKs would force thousands of families into homelessness, hurt the state economically and put added pressure on already strapped county assistance programs.
"No other state has eliminated all aid to dependent children, and no other First World country that we are aware of has no safety net for poor families," said Frank Mecca, the group's executive director. "There really is no fallback, especially given the financial condition that most counties are in."
CalWORKS assists approximately 525,000 families per month, including 62,000 children in Sacramento County alone. The program, said Wagstaff, goes beyond money, as it helps people in other ways, such as gaining work skills, caring for children, and obtaining jobs.
Wagstaff and other administrators are betting that the state will rescue the "welfare to work" program. But they are bracing for cuts that would slash benefits to the lowest levels since the late 1990s, when CalWORKs began as part of the federal government's bold reform of the welfare system.