Policy Priorities

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Slashing Children from the Budget

California Budget Cuts to Children Over the Past Five Years

Download the fact sheet (pdf): Slashing Children from the Budget: California Budget Cuts to Children Over the Past Five Years

California's most vulnerable children have been disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn and devastating state budget cuts to education, health care, and social services. Over the past five years, California has made billions of dollars of cuts to programs serving children and families, and children of color and poor children have been hardest hit.

At a time when one in five California children lives in poverty and millions of California children are unable to read or do math at grade level, we cannot afford to make additional cuts to investments in children and further damage an already tattered safety net.


CalWORKs provides cash assistance and job-related services to low-income families, including 1.1 million children. Nearly four out of five CalWORKs recipients are children. CalWORKs has experienced some of the most severe budget cuts and the cumulative impact of these cuts amounts to nearly $4 billion over the last five years. The state has significantly reduced the amount of the monthly cash grant to below $650 per month for a family of three. The state has also limited the amount of time parents can receive cash assistance and tightened work requirements for parents. The cuts in recent years come after a decade of stagnant spending on CalWORKs that failed to keep up with inflation – the CalWORKs grant a family receives today only goes half as far as it did 20 years ago.

Health and Human Services

Health and human services programs have been heavily affected by budget cuts. The cumulative impact of budget cuts to the Medi-Cal program, which provides health care services for almost 4 million low-income children, amounts to $3.6 billion over the past five years. Children’s health coverage in Healthy Families was cut by $145 million from 2008 to 2012, and this year’s budget moved the program into Medi-Cal to save money. The impact of these health cuts was even larger because the state lost billions in federal matching funds. Such drastic reductions to health programs have undermined access to care and coverage for California children.

In addition, the state has made significant cuts to services for children with disabilities and mental health programs. Almost $400 million has been cut over the past five years from In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, including children. The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has been cut by nearly $1 billion over the past five years, affecting approximately 130,000 children. These cuts resulted in reduction of salaries for service providers, limited eligibility criteria for services for at-risk young children, and fewer community-based support services. State-sponsored mental health programs, which provide care to 715,000 California children, have also suffered more than $1 billion in budget cuts in the last five years.  


California’s K-12 public education system serves more than 6.2 million children. Between 2007 and 2010, state lawmakers slashed annual educational funding by $7 billion – a nearly 14 percent decrease. The repercussions of these cuts include shorter school years, reductions in programs, and the loss of 32,000 teachers, which has resulted in a more crowded class rooms and higher student-to-teacher ratios.

Over the past five years, state support for the University of California and California State University systems was reduced by nearly one-third, while community colleges lost nearly one-fifth of their state support. The cuts have led to higher student fees, increased class sizes, reduced student services and course reductions. The state has also made cuts to Cal Grant awards for college students.

California’s public schools are at risk for further cuts – this year’s budget included severe “trigger cuts” that would affect education. If voters do not approve Proposition 30, a ballot initiative to temporarily increase income and sales taxes, K-12 education will be cut by $4.8 billion, which may mean shortening the school year by two weeks. The “trigger cuts” would also be cut over $1 billion from higher education.

Child Care and Development

A vast body of research demonstrates that spending on child care and development reaps a high return on investment. Child care programs also provide safe and affordable care that helps low-income parents find and retain jobs. Yet, over the last five years the CalWORKs child care budget has been reduced by one-third and the non-CalWORKs child care budget has been reduced by 16 percent. Total government spending on child care and development programs has been reduced by nearly $1 billion over the past five years. These spending cuts have resulted in a reduction of about 110,000 child care and preschool slots – one-quarter of total slots – for Californian children since 2008.


1)    California Budget Project. Falling Behind: The Impact of the Great Recession and the Budget Crisis on California’s Women and Their Families. February 2012
2)    Health and Human Services Network California. California Needs a Family Recovery Budget. June 2011.
3)    California Budget Project. Governor Signs 2012-2013 Spending Plan. July 9, 2012.
4)    California Budget Project. Cuts and Consequences: Key Facts About the CalWORKs Program in the Aftermath of the Great Recession. May 11, 2011.
5)    California Budget Project. California’s Public Schools Have Experienced Deep Cuts in Funding since 2007-2008. April 10, 2012.
6)    Legislative Analyst’s Office. Overview of State’s Child Care and Development System. October 9, 2012.
7)    California Budget Project. Recent Cuts Have Contributed To A Decline In Children Insured By The Healthy Families Program. May 13, 2011.