Twenty-One years ago, on July 4th, California passed legislation that prevented children who are born into families already receiving cash welfare assistance from qualifying for additional aid. The child exclusion rule, called the “Maximum Family Grant” (MFG) rule, was inspired by the worst kind of stereotyping of low-income parents that prevailed in the late 1980s and early 1990s – that of the “welfare mom.” The policy suggested that women conceived children simply to gain $120 more per month in welfare benefits, and proponents argued that by denying cash assistance, fewer children would be born into poverty.
Research has since proven this assertion wrong.
The law allows for a two exemptions to the rule. Families are exempted from MFG:
- when a child is conceived as a result of incest or rape or,
- when a child is conceived from a failure of a permanent contraceptive, (but only for those contraceptives identified in state statute).
As a result, mothers whose infants are subject to the MFG rule are forced to decide between disclosing personal and confidential medical information, such as their status as a rape victim or use of contraception, or going without a basic need grant to care for their child. While it is appropriate for a caseworker to be trained at offering support should a rape or incest be reported, it is abhorrent for government to force a victim, under duress of enduring deeper poverty, to do so.
These exemptions underscore how unacceptable and invasive the MFG rule actually is.
Today, our state leaders have the opportunity to repeal this discriminatory law by supporting Senate Bill 23 authored by Senator Holly Mitchell, which was recently passed off of the Senate Floor with bi-partisan votes. SB 23 has the support of a large diverse coalition, including Planned Parenthood, and editorial boards across the state.
While I’m confident that this shortsighted and regressive policy will be repealed, I am deeply disturbed by the 21 years of harm we have done to children and families. We can’t go back and make things better for them, but we can – and we should – stop further harm to children born into poverty and end the inappropriate government intrusion into the private health and reproductive decisions of women.
Join us in this principled and historic fight! Contact the campaign at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Bartholow is the legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.