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Welfare-to-work-to-welfare

The governor's veto of childcare subsidies for people who have moved off welfare may force people to choose between their kids and their jobs.

October 19, 2010

California, and more particularly Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, just can't seem to decide whether it's better to move people off welfare and into work or back the other way. Rejecting welfare reform as we've come to know it, under which aid has been made contingent on job training and ultimately joining the workforce, we're now telling families who have graduated from CalWorks and state support that we'd really rather they give up their new jobs, their newly acquired skills, their new self-sufficiency andlikely, their new self-respect and instead go right back on the dole.

That is the message of Schwarzenegger's veto of $256 million for the Stage 3 Child Care program, which provides childcare subsidies for people who have moved off welfare. Yes, subsidizing childcare costs the state money, but it costs far less than keeping adults who can work and want to work out of the workplace and at home because they can't otherwise look after their children.

The veto cuts off childcare funding for 60,000 children of working parents at the end of this month. About 11,800 families and 17,000 children will be affected in Los Angeles County alone. Cutting off child-care aid doesn't mean lower costs for county taxpayers; it means much higher costs as parents leave their children home alone (and the sheriff or the county Department of Children and Family Services steps in) or quit their jobs and quit paying taxes and get back in line for basic benefits in order to take care of their children. This is welfare reform? No, this is absurd.

The governor's vetoes were meant to ensure a healthy budget reserve for his successor, and that's certainly a responsible idea, given that next year's budget will continue to be undermined by a struggling economy. But unlike other vetoes, money saved by eliminating the Stage 3 Child Care program doesn't go into the reserve; under the peculiarities of state budgeting, it essentially disappears.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) jumped on this veto, as well as companion vetoes that wiped out $80 million in direct child welfare services (which results in the loss of more than $50 million in federal matching funds) and $70 million to mental health care for children. But a veto override is not in the cards. Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez (D-Los Angeles) is pledging $6 million from his house's budget and asking state and local commissions to kick in enough to keep the Stage 3 program intact until a new governor is in office; with luck, enough Californians will understand the penny-wise, pound-foolish quality of the veto and can persuade the new governor to reverse course.

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