Protecting California’s Poorest Infants From Deep Poverty

August 12, 2013

by Michele Stillwell-Parvensky, Children's Defense Fund-California

California’s most vulnerable young children are being harmed by a punitive policy that limits basic needs assistance for children, and puts their future brain development and school success at risk. California's maximum family grant (MFG) policy, also called a “family cap”, denies basic needs assistance through the CalWORKS program for infants born to a poor family already receiving public assistance.  Assembly Bill 271, authored by Assemblymember Holly Mitchell and currently under consideration by the California Legislature, would repeal the MFG rule in CalWORKs and allow families to receive aid to help provide for the basic needs of their newborn children.

The family cap policy pushes families and children deeper into poverty, which has a detrimental impact on children long in to the future. Research shows that poor children are less likely to succeed in school and more likely to have long-term health problems. Neuroscientists conclude that poverty can also create a high and constant level of stress in children that is toxic to the developing brain. Furthermore, poverty early in a child’s life may be especially harmful for achievement skills and cognitive development – the MFG penalizes infants at a developmentally critical time.

The statistics on school success for California’s poor children are striking.  Only 12% of low-income fourth grade students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch were proficient or above in reading, while 43% of their higher income peers were proficient. Similarly, 18% of low-income fourth graders were proficient in math, while 56% of their higher income peers were proficient. Low-income youth are also more likely to drop out of high school.

While those statistic refer to children who are “low-income” – generally twice the federal poverty line, or approximately $40,000 for a family of three – the negative impacts are even more dramatic for children living in deep poverty – those in families earning less than 50% of the federal poverty line, or approximately $10,000 for a family of three. In comparison, the average monthly grant for a family of three on CalWORKs is just $464 per month, less than one third of the federal poverty line.

If California wants to improve child wellbeing and educational success for poor children, state policymakers must focus on reducing early, deep, and persistent childhood poverty. AB 271, which would repeal the maximum family grant policy, is a necessary step toward that goal and targets some of the poorest infants and children in our state. AB 271 allows families to receive approximately $122 per month in additional benefits for their newborn child, enabling families to better provide for the basic needs of their children. 

Please take action today on behalf of California’s poorest children – support AB 271 by signing this petition from the Western Center on Law & Poverty and joining the conversation on Twitter: #RepealMFG.