State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, ponders a question about the state budget while talking with reporters at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 18, 2012. Despite having passed a spending plan, Friday, Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, are still trying to resolve differences on welfare cuts with Gov. Jerry Brown. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California legislators may have passed a budget, but Democratic leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown are fighting to a stand[auth] off over his proposal to restructure the state’s welfare program.
Brown is pressuring the Legislature for deeper cuts amid a projected $15.7 billion shortfall. Negotiations continued Monday with Democratic lawmakers resisting Brown’s proposal to reduce welfare spending, one of many issues still to be resolved before the state’s spending plan can be implemented.
Brown, a Democrat, wants to emphasize getting people back to work, while reducing aid for parents who aren’t meeting requirements under CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program. The governor’s office says his plan would save $880 million.
But Democrats say it’s foolish to pay for job training when there aren’t enough jobs to go around. They would rather preserve cash grants.
“It is inefficient and, quite frankly, foolish, to invest in training for jobs that don’t exist,” Assembly Speaker John Perez said last week before passing the initial budget plan.
Democrats want to extend existing cuts on county work training and child care assistance programs, but the move would save $428 million — less than half of Brown’s proposal.
Their differences on welfare remain a major sticking point as Democratic leaders seek the governor’s approval this week on bills that must be resolved before the budget can take effect. The spending plan approved last week assumes voters will approve a tax increase in November, otherwise several automatic cuts will trigger, drastically reducing public school support.
California’s caseload outnumbers the rest of the country. CalWORKS serves about 1.4 million poor people — 1 million of whom are children. According to the state Department of Social Services, the average family on state aid in January received $465 a month, but parents can qualify for work training, child care and other services.
Brown wants permanent structural changes to shrink the $5.4 billion program, which amounts to about 5 percent of the state’s general fund. He is proposing to redesign the state’s welfare program by creating three tiers of eligibility.
Under his proposal, the state would introduce CalWORKS Plus to give adults extra cash when they meet work requirements.
Most families would qualify for CalWORKS Basic, which would be a continuation of the current program. Brown, however, wants to restrict the length of time those families can collect cash aid from four years to two years if they fail to meet tougher work requirements.
Also, Brown wants to give less aid to families where for various reasons only children qualify. A family of three in which only the child is eligible for benefits would be cut from a $516 a month benefit to $375 a month, an amount equal to 24 percent of the federal poverty level.
Critics say the governor’s proposal wouldn’t give parents enough time to earn their GED or college degree, and it doesn’t acknowledge family nuances, such as disabled parents or grandparents who care for their grandchildren.
“His approach has just been one size fits all, and that size is just cut them,” said Mike Herald, a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which advocates for low-income families.
Cosmetology student Nicole Range, 22, of Sacramento, said she is concerned about the governor’s proposal because her aid could be reduced if she doesn’t meet work participation requirements. Range, who has an 8-month-old boy named Demareau, said she was homeless while she was still pregnant until she began receiving $490 a month in state aid.
“It really helps me,” Range said. “If they were to take it away, I would have to start all over again. And it would be 10 times harder because I actually have my son now.”
Democratic leaders fear the move would drive Range and other families into homelessness at a time when unemployment remains high at 10.8 percent. Los Angeles County reported the number of CalWORKS families who have become homeless doubling from about 5,500 in 2006 to about 11,500 last year.
“The governor is asking for some more cuts, and he’s also asking, if you will, to make the rules tighter for people to be able to participate in the job training programs and to be able to receive their very small grant, which is barely enough to subsist on for an individual and his or her family,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talking to reporters outside the Senate chamber after Monday’s session.
He added, “It is an assistance-to-work program. It’s not welfare.”
Brown offered his rationale last week for reducing dependency on state aid, saying “we need additional structural reforms to cut spending on an ongoing basis, including welfare reform that’s built on President Clinton’s framework and focused on getting people back to work.”
Clinton supported an overhaul of the nation’s traditional welfare system in 1996 by giving states more control over the money that came from the federal government, which had been used to fund cash payments. States used the new flexibility to begin funding child care services and job-assistance programs.
But for the past three years, California has saved money by exempting work requirements in certain cases and keeping parents, saving the cost of child care and work training.
Brown’s finance spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said exempting work doesn’t save the state enough money and further changes are needed. Palmer said the administration is open to alternative ways to save the state money.
The governor’s plan “is not just a fiscally driven proposal,” Palmer said. “It’s to refocus the emphasis of this program back on to its original intent, which is to help individuals move from public assistance to self-sufficiency.”