In most states, when a family in need has a new child, their welfare benefits increase to cover the extra costs that come with a new family member. But 16 other states operate differently, limiting benefits after a certain number of children in the express hopes of discouraging poor mothers from having more children.
California’s policy, the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) Rule, has been in place for more than 20 years. After 10 months of receiving benefits, families don’t get any extra money if they have additional children, although they get higher benefits for any children they had before enrolling. “Here, what we say is, if you come into the program with 10 kids, they all get benefits, but if you come into the program with one kid and have another kid, that kid gets denied,” explained Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate at Western Center for Law and Poverty. “The child exclusion law targets the child, targets children born into deep poverty, and suggests that they should never have been born.” “It’s got an ugly history, it’s an ugly policy,” Bartholow said “I think it’s one of the worst policies in the country.”
But advocates think this may be the year they finally get rid of it. State lawmakers had originally tried to do away with the cap in a budget agreement earlier this year by allocating additional grant money for families on welfare who have additional children. It was eventually dropped from the budget and is now a stand-alone bill. Last month, it passed out of a Senate committee for the first time.
Advocates also feel optimistic about the effort’s chances this year. “We feel like we finally have the attention of the governor,” said Bartholow, whose organization is one of the main sponsors of the repeal effort. She thinks Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wasn’t even made aware of the issue in the first two years of the campaign to eliminate the cap, but now she knows that he has been personally briefed on it. “I also believe that he would sign a piece of legislation repealing a Maximum Family Grant,” she added.