In Brown's $92.6 billion general fund budget, the state would spend $1.2 billion on families in the current CalWORKs program. An additional $4.3 billion would come from federal and local funds.
Like other states, California saw a precipitous decline in welfare cases after the 1996 federal overhaul. California's caseload dropped from 921,000 cases in 1994-95 to 587,400 cases in the current fiscal year, according to state data.
California houses 33 percent of the nation's recipients with only 12 percent of the overall U.S. population.
It is one of seven states that continue paying families who have exhausted their time on the state's welfare-to-work program or cannot meet work requirements. More than half of CalWORKs cases 304,100 fall into this category. Besides families who have reached time limits, this group includes children whose parents or caregivers cannot qualify for CalWORKs, such as undocumented immigrants or disabled parents receiving other public aid.
Brown proposed eliminating this portion of the program last year, but Democrats rebuffed him, saying it would penalize children for the actions of their parents.
The cross-state comparisons aren't perfect, said Caroline Danielson, a policy fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California. She said that while California relies heavily on CalWORKs to serve its poorest residents, other states provide similar aid in programs that lack the political stigma of welfare and don't show up in federal data.
For instance, 19 states offer refundable earned income tax credits that provide cash for low-income families. California does not.
While saving $942 million, Brown wants to split CalWORKs into three new programs. The first, CalWORKs Basic, would function similar to the traditional program by offering the highest cash aid to parents and children, as well as mental health services, job training and child care. But families would only have access for two years rather than four.
The second program, CalWORKs Plus, would provide two more years of services, but only if the parent meets federal requirements, which generally means 30 hours a week in a job not financed by public subsidies. Brown would disqualify some activities like substance abuse treatment from meeting the work requirement.
Nearly all of the 304,100 "safety net" cases families without a qualified working parent would move to a new Child Maintenance program. Their average family grant would drop from $463 to $392. The state would loosen paperwork requirements and require an annual child health exam.
"We want the CalWORKs program for those focused on work and becoming self-sufficient," said Todd Bland, deputy director of the welfare-to-work division at the California Department of Social Services. "Child Maintenance would be for those who cannot work, who are unwilling, sanctioned or undocumented. For them, it's not about complying with work requirements."
Parents who can't find work after two years would move to the new Child Maintenance program, where their monthly grant would drop from the $638 in traditional CalWORKs to $375 for a family of three in Child Maintenance. The only time limit occurs when a child turns 18.
The new CalWORKs time limits would be retroactive. But parents on the verge of maxing out when the changes begin in October would have a grace period through April. DSS spokesman Michael Weston said about 60,000 cases would drop by that time.
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