Family Cap Rule Punishes California Kids
Low-income families in California are punished by a two decades-old policy that limits financial assistance for kids. The results, as you might imagine, can be disastrous for families who are already struggling to make ends meet.
California's maximum family grant (MFG) rule, also known as a family cap, was instituted in 1994 as part of the national push to reform welfare. While California's CalWORKS welfare program provides cash assistance to parents to support both them and their children, the family cap excludes those children who are born after the parent is already receiving benefits.
The argument for passing the MFG rule was that restricting aid to poor families would reduce birth rates. Twenty years of experience and research has shown this to be untrue—most women receiving welfare in California have the same number of children as non-recipients, and that number has not changed as a result of the MFG rule.
The fact is, California's family cap simply puts low-income families into an even more dire financial situation, making it all the more difficult to afford even basic necessities.
And at its core this policy punishes low-income women for having children. Government policies shouldn't control family size, or whether and when to conceive, under the threat of economic hardship.
A bill currently under consideration by the California Legislature, AB 271 (authored by Assemblymember Holly Mitchell), would change this.
AB 271 would repeal the MFG rule in CalWORKs and allow families to receive aid to help provide for the basic needs of their newborn children. While protecting the health and safety of these newborns, it would prohibit the state from inserting itself into the private family planning and medical decisions of families—just because they are poor.
Ultimately, it is newborn babies who are being punished by MFG policies. The average additional amount most families would receive in additional benefits upon the birth of a child is just $122/month. It's not enough to pay for all the baby's basic needs. But without it, children face increased risk for homelessness and poor health.
California is one of only 15 states to maintain a family cap policy. As states realize how these policies violate the reproductive privacy of poor families and see the long-term impacts of denying services to infants, more and more are moving to repeal their MFG policies. It's time for California to join them by passing AB 271.
Ashley Morris is a Senior Organizer with the ACLU of Northern California.