Vivian Thorp

California established its welfare program, CalWORKs, to alleviate the impact of extreme poverty on children and to keep families together. But one element of the program—the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule—instead penalizes children for being born into poverty. The MFG rule does this by denying financial support for babies born to families that are already receiving CalWORKs assistance.

That happened to my family. When my three children were little, we had to live in an abandoned building in Oakland. I used to take the bus to the public showers to bathe them. I cooked on hot plates. I tried to keep the kids from crawling on the floor because it was so dirty. While living there, my daughter got lead poisoning. There was no public housing that could take us and no job that would hire me.

It wasn’t my plan to be on welfare, but I lost my job at Wal-Mart when I got hurt. It wasn’t my plan to have kids when I did, but then I got pregnant while in an abusive relationship with my fiancé. It was not my plan to be as poor as I was for as long as I was, and the Maximum Family Grant rule made it much more difficult to leave welfare and make it on my own.

After more than twenty years of hurting low-income families, the Maximum Family Grant rule has to go.

My children and I know how difficult it is to make it when you have a child denied aid due to the MFG rule – we have lived it.

Today, not only have I been able to retain job security at a job where I help people, I have also raised three amazing girls who are happy, healthy, bright and already contributing to society. I couldn’t be more proud of them. But that doesn’t take away the pain of the hardship that we experienced. That is why I’m asking you to take action today to repeal the Maximum Family Grant rule.

In addition to exacerbating poverty, the MFG rule limits women’s reproductive decisions and leads to government intrusion into families. The only exceptions to the rule are for rape, incest, or failure of certain birth control methods. This means that women must disclose private information about their use of contraception or prove that they experienced rape or incest. I’m proud that California is a national leader in protecting women’s reproductive freedom. But the MFG rule is a shameful exception that punishes poor women for their reproductive decisions by withholding basic aid for their families.

No child should be denied aid simply because they are born poor, but approximately 140,000 California infant and children are. No mother should be pushed further into poverty because she has chosen to give birth.