Politics & Government

California's new budget proposal slashes welfare, releases inmates

In California's latest doom-and-gloom announcement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance on Tuesday proposed closing the state's main welfare program, releasing nonviolent prisoners one year early and shuttering up to 80 percent of state parks to shrink the state's $24.3 billion budget deficit.

Schwarzenegger wants $5.6 billion in new cuts to replace a like amount of borrowing he proposed in his budget plan earlier this month. The Republican governor previously asked for more than $15 billion in other savings by slashing schools and Medi-Cal, laying off 5,000 state workers and borrowing money from local governments.

Several of the latest cuts were eye-openers, but the largest was the wholesale elimination of the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Program, which provides grants to parents that people commonly refer to as "welfare."

Nearly 1.3 million Californians received CalWORKs payments in February, almost 1 million of whom were children. The state would save $1.3 billion next year by eliminating CalWORKs but lose three times as much in federal funds.

"It boggles the mind that California would be the only state in the Union without a CalWORKs-type program," said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association. "In fact, we'd be, to our knowledge, the only state in a country in the entire First World not to have subsistence benefits for children."

Department of Finance Chief Deputy Director Ana Matosantos laid out the governor's plan during a conference committee hearing, going through each proposal line by line, prompting questions – and expressions of shock. Democratic committee members took issue with many ideas but pledged to consider them in hearings this week.

Besides the CalWORKs elimination, more than 900,000 low-income children would lose medical coverage under a proposal to eliminate the state's Healthy Families program, saving $250 million.

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