(Craig Miller/KQED)
(Craig Miller/KQED)

If you looked at that headline and thought, “What is the maximum family grant?” you’re probably not alone.

Twenty years ago this week, in the midst of the Clinton-era welfare reforms, California became one of 16 states to pass a limit on assistance to new children born into families that had been receiving welfare benefits in the 10 months before the child was born. In California, the welfare program is called CalWORKs.

The idea was to prevent people receiving aid from having more children.

That law is still on the books and today, according to a brief from the Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), 13.4 percent of children in CalWORKs households — that’s 143,300 children — are “currently impacted by the (maximum family grant) rule.”

CalWORKs provides needy families with basic-needs cash grants, and it’s not much. According to WCLP, the average grant is $464 per month. That puts a family of three at roughly 29 percent of the federal poverty level. The maximum grant would push families up to 41 percent of the poverty level.

If the maximum family grant (MFG) rule were repealed, most households would receive an additional $122 per month.

SB899 would do just that, but the bill is currently on hold in the California Senate.

In the meantime, senators will vote Thursday on a resolution to repeal the rule “as soon as legislatively possible.”

The movement to repeal the law has drawn together groups that are not normally on the same side of an issue. In addition to the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Conference all support its overturn.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, pointed to research showing that people on public assistance don’t have more children than the general population. “We’re choosing to have a policy which penalizes the poor child and the woman who is poor,” he said, “and we’re penalizing them for no particular good public policy reason.”

In addition, he said, “essentially the state is incentivizing poor women to choose an abortion, since the state says we’re not going to give you any assistance to raise a child.”

A withering piece on Slate calls the rule “the most discriminatory law in the land” and notes:

And, for all the ways these laws disadvantage poor families, they also fail in their purported mission of reducing family size. Several studies—including a 2001 analysis from the Government Accounting Office—have found no substantial relationship between welfare caps and a reduction in births. “Despite the political attractiveness of caps,“ writes researcher Michael Wiseman in a 2000 study on welfare policy and children, “there is little empirical support for expecting them to do much beyond reducing costs. …”

While repealing the rule would cost California about $220 million annually, the Urban Institute estimates that it could reduce childhood poverty rates by 7 to 13 percent.


Advocates Urge Repeal of ‘Maximum Family Grant’ 4 July,2014Lisa Aliferis


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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