Penny-wise, people-foolish

Rhonda Erwin is a Meadowview resident who is working to stop gun violence among Sacramento’s youth

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and co-editor of Because People Matter

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to balance the state’s budget. To this end, he’s proposed to reduce spending on low-income welfare recipients.

As reasonable Californians, we disagree with his family-unfriendly approach. It will result in adults who receive assistance being forced to work longer hours to make ends meet. Yes, they would earn more, with the state assisting less. But money isn’t the end of it.

These low-income parents would have less time to spend with their growing teens. It’s impossible to place a price tag on this precious time. Resources for teens in these households are already in short supply. The governor’s proposals would worsen the situation, placing some of these youth at increased risk of becoming victims—or perpetrators—of crimes.

Where in the governor’s welfare-reform proposal are the increased resources to address a reduction in parents’ nurturing?

Low-income teens are swelling California’s juvenile detention facilities as the state borrows to build more facilities to house them. In contrast, funding crime prevention by spending on books, food and health care for Californians who lack these things makes more fiscal and individual sense.

The governor’s proposal to cut spending for welfare recipients is flawed in part because he hasn’t experienced the stresses and strains of a working parent struggling to get by on a combination of public assistance and low-wage employment while rearing teens. The experiences of welfare recipients are missing in his new policy measure. The daily experience of these cash-challenged Californians who are just “getting by” should be central to public policy-making, not marginal.

We are wage earners, like most Californians. There are many jobs statewide that fail to cover the costs of living and require long hours. This fact alone reduces family time available to nurture and guide our youth. Further cuts to public assistance will worsen this home-and-job conflict.

The state needs to provide more—not less—community support and resources for underprivileged and economically disadvantaged working families. Why withdraw such support and risk fostering a rise in youth crime?

Coming down hard on low-income families, as the governor proposes, is cruel and unusual punishment of the working folks who are the least responsible for the state’s budget deficit.

Let us not be penny-wise and people-foolish.