‘The Stigmatic End of the Welfare Queen; Farewell to the Punitive MFG Rule in Cali’
Yes indeed....At last! The punitive Maximum Family Grant Rule, also known as the ‘MFG Rule’ a humiliating policy that had hurt so many vulnerable families like mine while on welfare in California has come to an end after adversely affecting poor families for the past twenty plus years.
Having been on welfare under the MFG Rule was never easy for me during the years I had to depend on it. When I had my two youngest children, I was impacted of the MFG Rule which made supporting my family while participating in my Welfare-to-Work activity extremely difficult and nearly impossible at times, as this punitive State mandated law banned me from receiving welfare cash-aid assistance for my youngest child as she was born when I was still receiving welfare cash-aid assistance.
During this time, I was in deep struggle, living homeless with my young children in a dilapidated storefront space in Downtown Oakland and was dealing with domestic violence as my then partner was dealing with his own mental health issues at the time, which made the situation even more difficult. However, having less cash-aid assistance to live on for my three children made it much harder for me to get my family out of poverty for good.
And although I was playing by the rules, being in full compliance in fulfilling my welfare-to-work obligations, I was forced to live on $65.00 per month per child for my two youngest children, which forced me to make a lot of desperate choices like stealing diapers, shoes and food as the monthly food stamp benefits I received for my family never lasted throughout the month due to the high cost of food in the Bay Area. Because of the MFG rule, my cash-aid assistance was reduced, taking me twice as long to get through my welfare-to-work activity.
The MFG Rule, which was part of ex-President Bill Clinton’s sellout of poor families for Welfare Reform with the Republican Party during the mid 90’s was optional for states to adopt, which California did in 1994 by then Governor Pete Wilson. This policy demonized single mothers and was racist, sexist, classist, and ensured that children grew up poor.
As part of the MFG Rule, the cap on benefits was originally based on the apocryphal story of the “welfare queen”, a term popularized by ex-President Ronald Reagan during his Presidential campaign, describing women who gamed the welfare system by ‘popping out babies’ and amassing a fortune at the expense of gullible taxpayers.
The MFG Rule was designed to punish women for having children while on welfare. The idea was that welfare recipients should not be given an incentive to give birth while on aid, so the amount of cash aid assistance they received would be tied to the size their family was when they started receiving benefits. If another baby came along, well, too bad. Unless mom was raped, a victim of incest or could prove that the birth control didn’t work, there would be no benefit increase.
Over the last twenty years, this punitive policy (MFG Rule) has done nothing to stop poverty. And despite its general intent to provide less government funded safety net programs for poor families, instead the MFG Rule actually invited government to intrude into the most intimate of women’s decisions, forcing them to face humiliation, being forced to disclose their methods of birth control and having to inform government agents how they became pregnant.
As quoted by Jessica Bartholow of the Western Law and Poverty Center in Sacramento, California: "California and many other states have a long way to go in deconstructing the harmful stereotypes of poor mothers and families they have perpetuated. But California has shown that the first step is possible, and that strong legislatures and citizens prioritize the livelihood, dignity, and opportunity of poor communities."
However, after two decades, and the hard work of legislators such as Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Author of SB-899 (Repeal MFG bill) to finally end this offensive and degrading policy and Advocates like the Western Law and Poverty Center, ACLU and several other advocate groups and organizations, including myself as someone who was adversely affected by the MFG Rule, this offensive and degrading policy would come to an end as California Governor Jerry Brown would repeal the MFG Rule, as this policy has done nothing more than put families in deeper poverty as it did for me and my children as we were forced to exist on $623.00 a month for a family of four in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive communities to live in the entire United States.
Most importantly, this would be a huge win for families like mine and for anti-poverty advocates, as in June of 2016, Governor Brown and several California lawmakers voted to repeal the MFG Rule, ending two decades of a shameful policy that forced women into having fewer children by depriving them of the resources they needed to raise them. This repeal is expected to benefit about 126,000 children in 93,000 families across the state of California.
As quoted in the Sacramento Bee by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles): “I am thrilled that the state has acknowledged its error in creating a policy in 1994 that has done nothing but force families living in deep poverty into deeper poverty.”
After years of unsuccessful attempts to abolish the MFG Ruleand in sharing my own personal experience of the deep struggle I endured while being under the MFG Rule while on welfare, including working together in tandem with other Advocates on all levels to make eminent change so that all children in California will have better opportunities in life as they are our future leaders was truly rewarding in every way now that the MFG Rule has now been repealed in the State of California.
I am very have proud to have been a part of creating this change and that my life’s experience of poverty scholarship helped put a real face to the thousands of families who live each day in struggle trying to keep their children warm and fed each day, knowing that my voice mattered.
I also look forward to informing families about the repeal of the MFG Rule in California and am very thankful to all who never gave up. However, it is time that we open up a real dialogue on 'silenced issues' such as this in the mainstream media, so that social change becomes eminent. With the MFG Rule repealed, an increase in cash-aid assistance will truly help many families reach their goals to eventually having the ability to rise out of poverty, as no child should ever be left behind. I would like to thank the fierce warrior Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) for never giving up the fight so that all California’s children count.