May 14, 2011

Sacramento Business Reporter Uncritically Relays ‘Nonpartisan’ Group’s CalWORKS Cuts Critique

Apparently, the state of California has been trying to do something about the runaway costs of its “traditional welfare” program. Nationally, it’s known as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). In the tarnished Golden State, it’s called CalWORKS (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids).

Wednesday, the supposedly nonpartisan but clearly left-leaning California Budget Project (CBP) issued a report entitled “Recent Cuts to CalWORKs Have Significantly Affected Families and Local Communities.” At the Sacramento Business Journal, Staff Writer Kathy Robertson essentially transcribed its major points. Had she done further work, she would have noted that the number of CalWORKs recipients, already over triple the national average as a percentage of the population, increased by another quarter-million during the past 27 reported months (June 2008 to September 2010) to 1.46 million. That total is almost 4% of the state’s population. The welfare-receiving percentage of the population in the rest of the country, including a few other states which have allowed their rolls to unreasonably balloon, is less than 1.2%.

Here are several paragraphs from Robertson’s report:

Report: Welfare, disability cuts take local toll

The cumulative impact of state cuts to welfare recipients and low-income California seniors and people with disabilities amounts to more than $8 billion over the three-year period ending June 30, 2012, a report by the nonpartisan California Budget Project concluded.

The welfare cuts add up to $3.5 billion over this period, equivalent to a loss of roughly $3,100 for each of the 1.1 million children in the program.

… The welfare program — called CalWORKS — provides cash assistance to low-income families with children while helping parents find work and overcome barriers to employment. State budget cuts have reduced cash assistance, scaled back the earnings limit below the federal poverty line, cut funding for employment services and child care and — effective this July — rolled back the time limit for support to four years from five.

A total of 40,120 families and 73,670 children in the four-county Sacramento area will lose almost $242.5 million in support by the end of the next fiscal year.

… The maximum monthly grant for individuals will drop to the federal minimum of $830 in July, a reduction of $77 per month compared to the maximum grant of $907 in January 2009.

CBP’s $3,100 figure uses clearly deceptive math by presenting a 3-year figure for the purpose of creating a big number, and by further assuming that the cuts will only affect children and not adult recipients. Correctly applied math would mean that the cuts amount to $801 per person per year ($3.5 billion divided by 1.46 million divided by 3), or $67 per person per month ($200 for a family of three). That doesn’t sound so bad, especially when you consider that the vast majority of recipients more than likely qualify for food stamps, where the Maximum Monthly Allotment for a family of three for fiscal 2011 is $526 (the same as fiscal 2010 presented at the link), an increase of $100, or 19%, over fiscal 2008.

The problem in California, religiously ignored by its establishment press as long as I have been following related developments, continues to be its outsized caseload, as a comparison to the eight worst other states, DC, and the rest of the country shows:

TANFcaseloadsForKeyStatesAndUS0608and0910

If its welfare recipients constituted the same percentage of its population as the rest of the country, California’s welfare rolls would total less than 440,000 (1.17% times 37.267 million per the July 1, 2010 census). If the state didn’t have more than 1,000,000 more people on welfare than it arguably should, the program changes CBP is decrying may not have been necessary.

As to the CBP’s objectivity, give me a break:

  • Its Board of Directors includes Dean Tipps, Retired Executive Secretary of the California State Council of Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Ellen Wu, Executive Director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network; and several other welfare state advocacy group official.
  • Its Executive Director since its 1995 inception also has SEIU background.
  • One of its core principles is that “government should work to improve the lives of the people it serves.” (No, government should in most cases get out of the way so people can improve their own lives while helping those who legitimately cannot help themselves.)
  • No objective think tank could possibly look at CalWORKs without questioning its self-evidently bloated caseload. It’s clear that CBP simply takes it as a given.

The fact is that Democrat-dominated California has resisted implementing the national welfare reform initiatives enacted in 1996. Since it doesn’t have the nerve to address its caseload overload, it’s cutting benefits instead. This is where misplaced compassion and bureaucratic stubbornness lead when you start running out of other people’s money. You would think someone like Kathy Robertson, who after all writes for a business publication, would understand that.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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