The California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) Program helps 1.5 million people (78 percent of recipients are children) statewide with grants, employment services and childcare assistance. Because the program is administered as a partnership between the federal, state and county government, any change in the state’s participation would impact the amount Washington D.C. sends to local communities – drastically.
According to CBP estimates, eliminating the program altogether would save the state $2.4 billion in 2010-2011, but would cost the state $3.9 billion in lost federal funds.
For Orange County, where 50,000 people would be impacted, the net loss would be almost $218 million by CBP estimates.
“That would be devastating to the people in the program and the community at large,” says Ben Blank, Orange County deputy director of Family Self Sufficiency Division.
Blank points to studies that show problems such as child abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy and crime increase with poverty to show how widespread the impact will be if the program is eliminated.
“This has been one of the most successful programs in the history of the country,” Blank says.
The loss of revenue and resources for residents hits counties of all sizes. At 26.9 percent Imperial County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, according to an April Employment Development Department report. Out of a total population of 164,000, almost 14,000 parents and children participate in CalWORKS. CBP estimates $59 million in state and federal checks would disappear from Imperial County mailboxes each year if the program were eliminated.
In Colusa County, where 570 of 21,000 people participate in CalWORKS, CBP estimates a loss of $2.5 million. “This is money that allows the working poor to stay employed,” says Supervisor Kim Vann.
The lost aid is not the end of the story.
California State Association of Counties adds an estimate of hundreds of millions of dollars in increased general aid demands on counties to the CalWORKS closure bill.
Orange County’s Blank explains that the county currently pays 2.5 percent of the $694 a family of three would receive on July 1. The rest comes from a combination of state and federal funding. If the program were pulled, the county would have to pay 100 percent of the $371 a month in general assistance that would go the same qualifying family.
Elimination of the program would also remove the work assistance programs designed to help families stand on their own.
“That would just push these families deeper into poverty,” Blank says.
The governor’s budget also proposes postponing implementation of a $40 million Pay for Performance program designed to transition families to work.
The Legislative Analysts’ Office suggests in its budget review that the legislature suspend cost of living increases, reduce child care reimbursements, increase self-sufficiency reviews and add a community service work requirement for a total savings of about $207 million, possible reductions, but not elimination of federal funding and cover more families.
As a last resort, the LAO suggested adopting another one of the governor’s possible scenarios, a 10 percent grant reduction, which would save $294 million. Some of the impact on recipients could be made up with an increase in food stamp benefits and more families would be covered at least minimally.
Colusa County’s Vann says, “Any reduction in allocations has to come with reductions or flexibility in mandated levels of service or we just can’t do it.”
JT Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org