Basic needs of working families during recessions would be better met under new bill
Sen. Bob Hertzberg seeks to better protect families, the unemployed
SACRAMENTO – In May 1961, Chloe and Alderson Muncy of Paynesville, West Virginia were the first recipients of modern food assistance, granted through an executive order by President Kennedy.
Three years later, on Aug. 31, 1964, then-President Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act of 1964, permanently cementing one of the centerpiece initiatives from the War on Poverty. As Johnson said at the time, this program applies “the power of America’s … abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.”
Despite 51 years since the War on Poverty, however, hunger and poverty are still major challenges facing our nation. This is especially evident in California, where poverty rates following the Great Recession remain stubbornly above the national average.
To help reverse that trend, Sen. Bob Hertzberg today announced introduction of a plan to fight hunger and support a family’s basic needs during federally declared recessions. At present, recipients of California’s largest safety-net programs for food and basic needs must meet minimal work requirements to be eligible for benefits.
“These work requirements make sense during periods of economic prosperity, but when unemployment is high Californians should not be denied much-needed aid to help prevent hunger and homelessness,” Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said about Senate Bill 306. “My bill would make it easier to keep your head above water during the next recession.”
Specifically, SB 306 would require all counties to maximize federally funded food aid for able bodied adults without dependents who have no work opportunities. The bill also would require each county to guarantee a placement in CalFresh Employment and Training programs for able bodied adults without dependents, subject to a three-month time limit. SB 306 establishes that, during a federally declared recession, months on aid should not be counted toward the 48-month lifetime limit in CalWORKs, provided the adult has not exceeded 60 months on aid allowed by federal law. The goal, Hertzberg said, is to prevent hunger and hardship among Californians when jobs are not available.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “poverty rates continue to soar in the aftermath of the Great Recession.” Between 2009 and 2011, for example, one in four Californians were living in poverty.
Even today, nearly two-thirds of California’s poor families are working.
“Unfortunately, most jobs created in the wake of the Great Recession are low-wage, part-time, and temporary jobs, leaving families with little ability to stay out of poverty,” Hertzberg said.
Federal law provides food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known in California as CalFresh. This aid is limited for adults without dependents to three months out of a three-year period unless they are employed for at least 20 hours a week or participate in an Employment and Training program. The Federal government may waive this rule if a region has a higher-than-average unemployment rate.
Currently, counties may elect not to accept these waivers, foregoing federal money for food assistance in times of great need. But SB 306 would change this by requiring the state and counties to accept waivers. Acceptance of the waivers not only prevents hunger, but avoids deepening economic recessions. According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, every $1 billion in federal food aid supports more than 7,000 jobs.
Finally, federal law requires the state to provide aid to low-income parents and children through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Family program, called CalWORKs in California, and helps fund the program.
Adult CalWORKs recipients, with some exceptions, must work to receive cash benefits. States must certify that 50 percent of all families and 90 percent of two-parent families are working or participating in welfare-to-work. State law limits adult participation in CalWORKs to 48 months in a lifetime and welfare-to-work services to 24 months in a lifetime, with some exceptions.
For example, SB 306 would not count certain months against the 48-month limit on and during a federally declared recession.
A spokeswoman for the Western Center on Law and Poverty said Hertzberg’s bill was essential.
“It is hard to find a job on an empty stomach,” Jessica Bartholow said. “This is especially true when unemployment is high. “We look forward to working with Sen. Hertzberg to win passage of this bill.”
SB 306, will be set for its initial policy hearing later this spring.
For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 306, visit Hertzberg’s Web site at the address below.
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map HERE or athttp://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district. After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg built an international renewable energy business; invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through two civic groups: California Forward and the Think Long Committee of California. More HERE or at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg
MEDIA CONTACT: Ray Sotero
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Senate District 18
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, Calif. 95814
(916) 651-4018 office; 916 834-1128 cell