California’s heartlessness

Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor

At what point can a state government be characterized as heartless? Wherever that point is, we’re getting close to it in California.

With the economy reeling and millions of Californians out of work, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is now proposing that the 1.4 million Californians benefiting from its CalWORKs welfare-to-work program—two-thirds of them children—be kicked off the rolls in order to help balance the state budget. If he’s successful, California will become the only state in the nation without such a program.

CalWORKs—the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program—requires parents to train, study or work in preparation for moving off assistance. Recipients receive cash grants to help pay for child care or other job- or training-related expenses they incur. Eliminating the program will throw thousands of people out of work and force them to apply to cash-strapped counties for indigent relief.

And that’s just one of the service programs the governor proposes to cut. As Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, has put it, “The governor’s proposals cut far past the muscle and into the bones of our state’s safety net—the health care, job placement, child-care assistance, and other services Californians have turned to in greater numbers for help during the recent downturn.”

Ross calls for a more balanced approach “that includes … prudent and carefully targeted cuts that preserve the core capacity of services.” And she points out that, just as families unable to make ends meet work overtime or take an additional job to boost their incomes, California needs to bring in new revenues.

That last is, of course, the sticking point for the Legislature’s Republican members. They’re ideologically and rigidly opposed to finding new revenues and seem perfectly willing to make life even more miserable for the state’s poorest residents in order to protect, say, the oil industry from having to pay a fee for extracting the state’s oil. If that’s not heartlessness, what is?