California’s welfare system, known as CalWORKs, is in crisis. You might not hear much about it in the newspaper or on television, but this problem costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Instead of serving as a temporary assistance and retraining program that leads its recipients to new work and financial self-sufficiency, CalWORKs has become a way of life for many.
California has about 12 percent of the nation’s population. Under a rational system, we’d expect the state to have about 12 percent of the nation’s welfare recipients. But the reality is far worse—our state has about 30 percent of the nation’s welfare recipients. In comparison, Texas has 8 percent of the nation’s population, but just 3 percent of the nation’s welfare recipients.
How did we let it get this bad?
In 1996, Congress took much-needed action to reform the federal welfare program. The reforms tore down the old federal entitlement program and empowered states to implement genuine welfare-to-work programs. Caseloads across the country, including California’s, began to decline.
But we didn’t go far enough. While other states tightened their time limits and sanctions, California’s program remained lax, with extended time limits and weak sanction policies. The direct consequence of the state’s failure to clean up the system is the disproportionately high welfare rate we face today.
And we’ve tolerated these bloated welfare rolls despite the fact that most CalWORKs recipients aren’t following the rules. The law requires welfare recipients to meet a minimum level of work participation, but only 22 percent of work-eligible welfare recipients in California actually do so. Incredibly, of California recipients required to work in 2007, 64 percent didn’t work at all—not a single hour. This must change.
An effective welfare system plays an essential role in supporting families through difficult times and returning people to work or retraining them for new careers. But a welfare system that doesn’t sufficiently prepare or encourage recipients to reenter the workforce does a disservice to everyone, including recipients and the taxpayers who support the program. It’s time to overhaul and reform the California welfare system, while bringing it more in line with programs in the rest of the nation.
The state of Georgia operates its welfare program under the principle that “welfare is not good enough for any family.” The same should hold true here in the Golden State. Welfare is meant to be temporary, transitional assistance, not a permanent way of life.
As governor, I will comprehensively overhaul CalWORKs and make it the transitional assistance program it’s supposed to be. My plan will bring California’s welfare rate down to the national average, saving the state billions of dollars.
I will achieve this goal through a series of key reforms. We must reduce the CalWORKs lifetime limit from five to two years. We must strengthen the work requirements we impose and levy full-family sanctions when the law is not followed. We must also require welfare recipients to sign self-sufficiency contracts, which will reframe assistance payments as benefits to be earned, rather than entitlements to be demanded. Finally, CalWORKs should include up-front work requirements, meaning recipients must comply with program rules from the very beginning. These simple reforms will require motivation and action on behalf of recipients, which will ultimately lead them to become productive and working members of society.
Our state faces yet another budget crisis and the stakes for reform of how our state does business have never been higher. My proposal will not only help balance the budget, but will also turn CalWORKs into what it was intended to be—a compassionate pathway to a new career and financial self-sufficiency, rather than a permanent career unto itself.
Steve Poizner is a Republican candidate for Governor. As California’s current Insurance Commissioner, he’s permanently cut the operating budget at the Department of Insurance by 15 percent, making him the only candidate running for Governor who has actually cut waste from state government. A highly successful businessman/entrepreneur, Poizner founded several technology companies. His last company, SnapTrack, pioneered life-saving technology that put GPS receivers into cell phones. You can find more information at www.stevepoizner.com.
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