Welfare Law: California Dumps the Maximum Family Grant

Historically, the state of California has made it difficult for poor women who use welfare services. One regulation in particular imposed a punishment on women receiving welfare who conceived additional children. The restriction, known as the Maximum Family Grant, was originally instituted to prevent women from becoming welfare abusers, sometimes referred to colloquially as “welfare queens.” Now, in Sacramento, the state legislature is refashioning welfare laws to make them fairer and more compassionate towards struggling families.

The law as it was originally instated back in the Regan years made it impossible for a women to get additional aid if she became pregnant while on CalWorks. California law only held a few exceptions to the rule for those who were victims of rape, incest or failed sterilizations. Of course, proving these exceptions was usually beyond the means of most low income women, and many argued that the law was wholly unfair.

The following video addresses some of the arguments against the law before it was enacted in 1994.

Aside from the desire to avoid contributing to poverty, the CA state legislature also felt that the law allowed government officials to bypass the privacy rights of poor women. Women had to openly discuss their sexual lives, birth control methods, and disclose sexual partners to government employees.

The most ironic part of the traditional law is that it didn’t really stop what it set out to do. Studies over the years proved that regulatory punishments did nothing to stop poor women from having several children. Perhaps the real solution lies not in punishing women after they have kids, but rather in educating them before they decide to engage in sexual activity.

Sen. Mitchell of Los Angeles was a prime advocate for the removal of the Maximum Family Grant. She worked with Gov. Brown to arrange sufficient financial support to cover the costs of removing the restriction. Apparently, the $200 plus needed to cover the removal of the law will be paid in a way that does not significantly affect the general fund. Mitchell is quoted as stating that the law only worked to “force families living in deep poverty into deeper poverty.” This type of effect does not support the policy behind welfare in the first place. In fact, it almost makes it impossible for poor women to ever leave the system and move into a middle class lifestyle.

A Sacramento criminal law lawyer says that this type of action will actually be good for Californians. The reasoning is simple: if women have sufficient means to take care of their families without resorting to crime, the taxpayers will not be stuck with the costs associated with the criminal justice and prison systems. Instead, the erasure of the Maximum Family Grant gives women another chance to get back on their feet and transition themselves out of poverty.