California Dems push to repeal 'welfare queen' law

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California Democrats are trying to reverse a decades-old state law that bars families from getting extra welfare money for having an additional child, describing the law as "sexist" and "classist" -- despite concerns that repealing it could compound the state's money woes.

The so-called "welfare queen" law was passed two decades ago during the heyday of welfare reform. At the time, Democrats were in charge of the state legislature and Republican Pete Wilson was governor.

Democrats are still in charge, but support for the law may be fading. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, as reported in the Sacramento Bee, recently introduced a bill that would repeal the policy, which she says was initially engineered to discourage welfare recipients from having additional children. The problem, she argues, is that it didn’t work.

In fact, with the cap in place, California’s childhood poverty rate has climbed to the highest in the nation. For Mitchell, this is her third attempt at abolishing the “welfare queen” law.

“It is a classist, sexist, anti-democratic, anti-child, anti-family policy whose premise did not come to fruition,” Mitchell said in a written statement. “It did not accomplish what it set out to accomplish. So it’s appropriate to take it off the books.”

But Republican strategist Bradley Blakeman warned there could be repercussions to nixing the policy.

“California is in serious financial difficulty,” Blakeman told’s “Strategy Room.” “The law should stay as it is. It makes sense. It’s a good deterrent for parents to be responsible and not bring children into a world they cannot care for.”

Repealing the law indeed would cost California taxpayers. One analysis estimates that overturning it would cost an already cash-starved state close to $205 million just in the first year.

Coined in the 1970s when then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan described the case of a Chicago welfare fraudster, the term “welfare queen” has evolved into shorthand for a poor woman with children she can’t support without government checks.

Nationally, President Clinton signed sweeping welfare reform legislation into law in 1996. The next year, then-California Gov. Wilson and state lawmakers collaborated on a program called CalWORKs which set standards for people eligible for financial assistance.

The family cap idea was pitched as a way to cut down on government dependency. But Mary Theroux, senior vice president of The Independent Institute, told that the data doesn’t add up.

She said the current policy "isn’t even a Band-Aid," and, “They are dealing with symptoms, not causes.”

Theroux isn't pushing for repeal, but rather, believes a better way to reduce the poverty rate is to tear down economic and educational barriers.

California is among 24 states that have put family cap policies in place over the past two decades, according to the California Berkeley Law Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Under California’s law, welfare assistance is denied for any child born into a family in which any parent or child was receiving aid 10 months prior to the birth -- though the state grants exemptions for the failure of certain forms of contraceptives.

Some anti-poverty advocates like the California Latinas for Reproductive Justice say the government is “using the threat of deeper poverty” if recipients don’t use contraception.