California is considering the removal of a limit in its welfare program that penalizes low-income mothers. Most programs determine benefits based on family size, with more money to support parents with more children. Yet the Maximum Family Grant rule in the CalWORKs program, which distributes TANF benefits, was adopted in 1994 and denies extra money for a new child if any member of the household is already receiving aid. In essence, it penalizes women who decide to have children while relying on the program.
The limit was one way the state sought to reduce the number of people relying on TANF funding and the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies among low-income women. Yet the research on whether or not such a policy has any impact on the decision to have a child is inconclusive and some have found that most women on CalWORKs have a similar number of children as those who aren’t on the rolls.
The average amount a family receives from the state’s welfare program is $464 a month, which puts a family of three at about 30 percent of the poverty line. Without the MFG limit, each household with a newborn child would get an additional $122 a month.
The bill to remove this limit, AB 271, has passed the state’s Assembly with a vote of 53 to 25 as well as the Senate’s Human Services Committee. It heads next to the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 12.
These family cap policies are somewhat widespread, however. Fifteen other states have similar laws on the books, although that number has fallen from 23 in the 1990s. Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed a family cap policy last year but some distanced themselves from it when some of the details drew outrage. Other states have recently repealed these policies, including Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Maryland.
Reducing welfare benefits for families has been shown to lead to even greater poverty, which puts children at risk of health, psychological, and cognitive problems. One study even found that some limits on benefits can lead to a higher death rate.
Republican lawmakers have sought to limit welfare benefits in other ways. Tennessee pushed a law to dock benefits for the families of children with poor grades, but ultimately dropped it. Many states have instituted mandatory drug tests for recipients.