California's ability to thrive as the world's ninth-largest economy depends on us reducing poverty and raising children who can become educated, healthy and stable workers. Yet we have an exclusionary policy that contributes to 1 in 5 California children living in poverty.
In a state where 500,000 infants are born each year and nearly half of all children are already growing up in a low-income household, this is of substantial concern.
Called the Maximum Family Grant rule, this policy says that when a woman already receiving cash assistance from CalWORKs, the state's welfare-to-work program, has a child, she is ineligible to get more aid to help care for her child.
The rule is unfairly based on the assumption that low-income mothers have more children just to increase the cash aid they receive from the state, when research shows otherwise. CalWORKs recipients do not have more children than the state's general population. As a result of losing roughly $122 per month in support, these mothers report their families face higher levels of hardship, distress, health problems, homelessness and hunger.
Multiple studies have shown that poverty is toxic to children, resulting in poorer cognitive development, lower educational attainment and higher high school dropout rates. No matter their income level, all mothers want to provide their children with opportunities to grow up healthy, safely and successfully.
It's time for our state to abandon policies that contribute to persistent and cyclical poverty, and instead focus on spending public dollars to provide hard-working low-income mothers with the tools and resources they need to function independently and make positive choices for their children's futures.
California was recently ranked 41st in the nation on children's well-being. Repealing the "family cap" rule is an important step in the right direction, but it is just the beginning. We need to improve the access and availability of health care services for children, strengthen the quality of the state's early learning system and invest in a better public education system for K-12, among other efforts that will help children move past poverty.
In addition to deciding the fate of the family cap rule, our legislators and governor have the opportunity to strengthen the state's early learning system for children ages 0-5. By increasing the reimbursement rates for child care and preschool providers, expanding slots in early learning programs and supporting quality improvement efforts, they can help improve the life trajectories for our most vulnerable children.
In addition, our policymakers can decide to support services that help children cope with traumas and to restore funding for three successful, cost-effective programs that have a big impact on kids but were eliminated in the recession: the Early Mental Health Initiative, the Black Infant Health Program and the California Children's Dental Disease Prevention Program. These are just some, of many, choices elected officials can make to help reduce childhood poverty and improve outcomes for children in our state.
Our policymakers still have the chance to do the right thing. We are calling upon Gov. Jerry Brown, Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley, the Senate and the Assembly to tackle child poverty by including money in the state budget that will allow repeal of the family cap rule and prioritize children and their futures.
Poverty is not inevitable. Exercising policies that help all children have a chance to succeed from birth onward, and making sure that mothers have educational opportunities to do the same, is a much more effective, long-term strategy that will benefit the state as a whole.
Ted Lempert is president of Children Now, a national research and advocacy group based in Oakland. Judy Patrick is president and CEO of the Women's Foundation of California.