California is set to repeal its so-called Maximum Family Grant Rule (MFG), a welfare reform measure that essentially punishes low-income women, particularly women of color, for having children. More than 20 years after the state’s MFG was originally passed, the California state legislature approved a budget this week that would eliminate the rule, and Governor Jerry Brown (D) has stated that he will approve the budget next week.
Under the state’s MFG, mothers who have additional children while already enrolled in CalWORKs—a program designed to provide cash assistance to families on welfare who have children—are not eligible to receive increased aid for their new babies.
“The Maximum Family Grant rule stemmed from racist, classist, sexist stereotypes of women of color and affected generations of poor children,” said Laura Jimenez, executive director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. “California is finally free of a failed oppressive law which disproportionately affected women of color and drove so many families into deeper poverty.”
State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angles), who has been at the forefront of the fight to repeal the MFG in California, said in a statement that “Welfare restrictions such as the MFG are relics of a 1990s-era belief that women were deliberately having more babies just to rake in more benefits, contributing to the offensive and erroneous notion of the ‘welfare queen’.” She continued, “It’s a racist, classist, sexist policy whose time has passed.”
California’s MFG rule was created in the mid-1990s as a part of a nationwide series of welfare reforms known as “family cap laws.” These laws rely on racist, sexist stereotypes depicting low-income women, specifically women of color, as sexually promiscuous and incapable of making good decisions for themselves and their families. In reality, these rules punish poor women for having children and increase poverty rates for already struggling families while having no discernible effect on their intended goal of reducing family size for low-income families.
Family cap laws such as MFG are also demeaning intrusions into individual privacy, according to Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Specifically, the rule has an exception for children conceived through rape or incest or from the failure of a form of permanent birth control such as an IUD. These exceptions force expecting mothers to choose between disclosing deeply personal information about their sexual assault or their method of birth control to the state or being unable to support their child financially.
The California Department of Social Services estimates that the repeal of the MFG rule will benefit close to 126,000 children in the state, providing families with an estimated additional $138 per child per month in aid.
Although the repeal of family caps in California is a huge win for families in that state, 12 other states still have similar family cap laws on the books, and two states go so far as to reduce benefits for families who have additional children.