California reverses welfare work policy

October 7, 2009 5:22:16 PM PDT
California has come up with yet another way to save money and, as is often the case, it is a double-edged sword. Some are wondering if cuts to the Welfare to Work program will reduce incentives for working mothers.

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Letters have started going out to tens of thousands of welfare families in California, informing them of changes that could encourage them to return to habits that would be difficult to undo.

A $375-million cut over two years to the Cal Works Program signed into the budget this summer means the state can no longer help welfare moms pay for childcare, transportation and training while fulfilling their requirement to work at least 20 hours a week.

Without that funding, some families are being informed, they now do not have to work, but will still get their full checks for the next two years.

Krista Wagner hopes to be one of them, having just applied for welfare.

"I would love to stay home and watch my kids grow up, and it's just hard being alone without my husband with me and no family nearby," she told ABC7.

While parents with hardships and infants have always been able to opt out of the work requirement, two large groups now qualify under the changes, those with one child under 2-years-old or those with two kids under six.

The decision is a stunning reversal since the 1996 national welfare overhaul dramatically changed the system over the last decade from one of endless benefits to one that is work-oriented.

"It took a lot of work to change the message and the mindset about welfare not just being about getting a check, but also about getting a job," said Cathy Senderling with the County Welfare Directors Association of California. "And, so to reverse that is going to send quite a different message."

The reversal is especially surprising given how much Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized welfare recipients over the summer.

"80 percent of California's welfare recipients aren't meeting simple work requirements, yet they're receiving weekly their paychecks and their benefits," he said in July. "All we wanted to do is just go and reform the system."

But, the administration says what it got for short-term savings was long-term reform. The work requirement comes back in July 2011 with much tougher rules. Still, taxpayer groups question whether changing such a successful program was wise.

Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says, "They are not on welfare for life. They actually have the skills to enter the workforce. And, that adds to the California economy, and they became taxpayers and members of a productive society."

Some moms may choose to keep their part-time jobs and find other options for childcare and transportation, but that could be difficult on their wages.

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