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Against the Poor



  Winter 2007


LIFETIME Parents Tell Off Schwarzenegger

On January 10 parents and children with LIFETIME  (Low-Income Families' Empowerment through Education) held a noisy protest at Governor Schwarzenegger’s press conference. The Gov was releasing his 2007 budget proposal. It features what LIFETIME parent leader Felicia Bland described as "drastic" changes to our state CalWORKs program. It will cut hundreds of thousands of poor children from the welfare rolls.

According to parent leader Vivian Hain, the Governor's proposed welfare changes would "put my family back in homelessness . . . and basically in a bad situation." In interviews with two San Francisco TV stations, Felicia explained that the changes would terminate assistance to her three children. She is struggling to complete her last two semesters in college. This will enable her to "get off welfare permanently." 

With her BA in nutrition, Felicia expects to make "around $5,000 a month" - or nearly $60,000 a year. This is far more than the $9,000 average earnings of a mother leaving welfare through Work-First programs in California.  Pending her graduation, Felicia has already received one job offer.  The starting salary?  Nearly $55,000 a year.

The Governor's budget would impose five-year lifetime limits on welfare benefits for poor children whose parents are not meeting welfare-to-work requirements, or are not eligible for assistance, or are primarily immigrant parents.  In addition, the Governor's budget also include full family sanctions. This is a sanction against children, whose mothers have been sanctioned.  This change could lead hundreds of thousands of poor children to be cut from the welfare rolls.

By targeting poor children, these punitive changes would reduce welfare spending by $465 million.  These savings will then be re-directed. The Governor wants to provide universal health care for all Californians, increase funding for prison and highway construction, and make a $600 million loan payment on debts the state incurred to balance the budget last year - a full year before the payment was due. 

Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said the budget was about choices. He added that the Governor was choosing to prioritize Wall Street bankers over the needs of poor children.  And as State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) made clear, "children can't eat health care for breakfast."

At the press conference, State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) vowed that "the last thing we want to do is balance the state budget on the backs of poor children and single mothers." LIFETIME families were thrilled by his statement. It was the campaign message that our children created in 2004. Then we were responding to Schwarzenegger's  budget proposal which would've slashed welfare benefits for poor children by 25% to balance the state budget. That year, LIFETIME parents and children convinced policymakers to reject the Governor's proposal, and won the first increase in welfare benefits since 1989.

Although we were denied entrance to the press conference, LIFETIME parent leaders and our children protested outside, carrying signs and wearing tshirts with bold, black targets.  For a full hour, parents, children and supporters chanted "Kindergarten Cop, You better stop, Don't target our children, To balance the budget!"

Afterwards, State Senator Perata thanked parents and children for coming to Sacramento, and for being vocal.  "We heard you all the way inside," Perata told the families who travelled from San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, Davis and Sacramento to make sure that the voices of poor children and their families are heard in this year's budget debates.

And we succeeded. Not only did legislators hear our families loud and clear. But interviews with six parent leaders and two LIFETIME staff were featured in more than 12 media broadcasts, including TV, radio and Spanish language TV news.

Diana Spatz, Executive Director


  510 352 5160; web: geds-to-phds.org 


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