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California May Gut Two CalWORKS Programs Helping Thousands of Families


PUBLISHED MAR 29, 2024 4:30 P.M.
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Joy Perrin, a mother of two children, testifies at the Budget Subcommittee on Human Services hearing at the state Capitol in Sacramento March 20, 2024. With the help of CalWORKS, Perrin was able to secure housing for her and her family.

Joy Perrin, a mother of two children, testifies at the Budget Subcommittee on Human Services hearing at the state Capitol in Sacramento March 20, 2024. With the help of CalWORKS, Perrin was able to secure housing for her and her family.   Photo by José Luis Villegas for CalMatters

BY JUSTO ROBLES, CalMatters

Joy Perrin had been living in a van with her two children for several months when she walked into a welfare office in 2018. She had left an abusive partner and had failed her first semester at Laney College in Oakland.

A social worker told Perrin she qualified for the CalWORKS family stabilization program, which provides cash assistance, transitional housing and counseling to families experiencing crises such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or the risk of homelessness.

Five years later, Perrin spoke to lawmakers on March 20, trying to save the program that helped her find a safe home and achieve an associate’s degree in biology.

“This program gave me the opportunity to show my children that poverty doesn’t have to be our name,” said Perrin, who plans to study radiology. “Not only am I a testament of the power of this program, but my children will be able to share their stories and how it can change their path to their future.”

Because California faces a projected budget shortfall of $38 billion to $73 billion, Gov. Gavin Newsom in January proposed cuts that would wipe out funding for the family stabilization program and for another CalWORKS program that subsidizes jobs for low-income recipients.

Both cuts would undermine CalWORKS’ effectiveness, advocates say, and contradict the governor’s stated goals of helping move families out of poverty.

The family stabilization program serves more than 31,000 people. The extended subsidized employment program reaches about 8,000 participants a month. In total 354,000 households with 659,000 children receive CalWORKS benefits a year.

CalWORKS Cuts

To shrink CalWORKS’ $7 billion annual budget, Newsom would take away what’s left of the $55 million from family stabilization this year and $71 million next year and $134 million each year from the expanded subsidized employment program — along with other cuts.

Some lawmakers are resisting.

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, the Moreno Valley Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s Human Services Committee, held the recent hearing to make clear how many people would be hurt.

He told CalMatters he opposes “a vast majority” of  Newsom’s proposed cuts to CalWORKS and is seeking alternatives.

“The question is no longer whether something is a good program; the question is whether it is more important than another,”  Jackson said. “CalWORKS is one of the most important programs that the state has. Very few can compete with it from a priorities perspective.”

State senators recently proposed shrinking the state budget shortfall by trimming current-year allocations. They agreed with Newsom’s plan to take back $336 million from CalWORKs, saying the money “is projected to be unexpended and should have no programmatic impact.”

But that doesn’t mean the cuts are set in stone. Newsom’s administration has proposed “a number of solutions across state government,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for Newsom’s finance department, including some funding for both CalWORKS programs.

Read more California may gut two CalWORKS programs helping thousands of families on CalMatters.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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