Earlier in March, our friends at the California Budget Project held a great and timely conference, “Raising the Bar: How Smart Public Policy Can Create Shared Prosperity in California.” They brought together activists, advocates, funders, grantmakers, lobbyists and policymakers to talk about the desperately needed public policy solutions to social problems in California.
The timing was just right: the Governor had released his proposed budget in January, the state has a projected $4.2 million budget surplus and we, as advocates, have only two months until the Governor’s May Revision to pressure and influence our legislators to reinvest in human service programs that benefit the most vulnerable among us.
The debate is heated: How should we use this surplus? Should we be “fiscally disciplined” or should we reinvest in programs that have been proven to work but have seen devastating cuts over the last 5 years?
Neither, Hoene pointed out right at the outset. Because that’s a false dichotomy. With so many Californians struggling, reinvesting in programs is actually an economically and fiscally prudent decision.
We attended the conference because we strongly believe that smart public policies can create shared prosperity in California. We believe that poverty is not a natural disaster; it is a result of past policy choices that can be corrected using new policy solutions.
Sasha Abramsky, author of The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives, eloquently explained this last point during the conference:
“Poverty in California is not inevitable. It’s not a product of a natural disaster like the drought or an earthquake. Nor is poverty in 21st century America a tragedy. Because tragedy is something you cry about but then move on from because you can’t do anything about it. Poverty is a predictable consequence of how we create our policies. It’s a consequence of what we choose to invest our common resources in and not invest in. It’s a consequence of what we do in terms of allowing or now allowing collective bargaining rights to workers. It’s a consequence of how we give or not give pensions and other benefits to people.”
Ending poverty and increasing economic security of low-income women and families in California is our mission and this year we will focus on these three policies to advance women’s economic security:
- SB 899 (Mitchell)—Repealing the Maximum Family Grant Rule: This rule has been in power for almost 20 years and has served to deny assistance to some newborns as a way of punishing their mothers for getting pregnant while on CalWORKs. Because of this punitive and ineffective rule, some newborns are denied a small cash grant of $122 per month, money that their mothers would use for diapers and food. Our Women’s Policy Institute fellows have rallied tremendous support for this effort and are working closely with the bill’s author, Senator Holly Mitchell.
- SB 935 (Leno)—Increasing the minimum wage in California: Low, stagnant wages have forced many hard-working California families to get by with paychecks that leave them well below the poverty level. By accelerating the increase in the minimum wage, our state rewards and respects hard work, reduces turnover, stimulates economic growth and gives low-income workers an opportunity to achieve economic security.
- SB 1029 (Hancock)—Removing lifetime barriers to assistance for people with drug felony convictions: This bill will help address poverty and recidivism by allowing women and men who have served their time to receive basic needs assistance and employment support services through the CalWORKs program and nutritional assistance through the CalFresh program. Currently, people who have served their sentences and are following all the rules are denied access to these two lifesaving programs, pushing them deeper into poverty, destitution and recidivism.
You’ll be hearing from us about these three bills in the upcoming months and we’ll be asking you to support our work, advocate for the bills and spread awareness in your communities.