California's budget crisis has approached a critical mass. Every day that it goes unfixed the state's projected $26 billion deficit grows. It is time for reform, not politics as usual.
As politicians struggle with a growing deficit, voters have their own concerns. Last week, a retired nurse from Santa Barbara called my capitol office. She was worried about the waste, fraud, and abuse taking place within the health care industry. She said that real lives were being affected and wondered how long this could continue.
One particular state program which is full of government waste, fraud, and abuse is the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs).
CalWORKs is California's largest cash aid program, which is a time-limited assistance program that encourages personal development and responsibility through 32 hours of work related requirements per week. This could include: going to school, job training programs, community service or volunteering, and vocational education.
While California accounts for 12 percent of the nation's total population, we are home to roughly one-third of welfare recipients through this program. However, what's surprising is that currently only 22 percent of CalWORKs recipients meet the federal minimum work requirements for the program. And that is down from 42% in 1999. Incredible statistics.
Do you think an employee would be allowed to show up for work 22% of the time and still have a job? No - they'd be fired. So why do we continuously let people pull money and resources from CalWORKs if they can't uphold their end of the deal? It's unfair to the hardworking taxpayers of California to see their tax dollars being spent on a broken program.
Welfare should be a safety net, not a hammock, a detour rather than a destination. CalWORKs was intended as conditional assistance - not an entitlement. Recipients have always been required to participate in welfare-to-work activities as a condition of eligibility yet they are not holding up their side of the bargain.
With a historic budget deficit that is causing significant cuts in areas such as education and public safety, it doesn't make sense to continue giving free cash to people who aren't complying with even the bare minimum of work requirements.
I'm not advocating the elimination of CalWORKs. What we need is to reform the program so that it helps the people it's meant to help, instead of letting people take advantage and abuse the program.
My colleagues and I are taking steps to reform broken programs such as CalWORKs. Such reforms would make it so that if a CalWORKs recipient makes zero progress in meeting basic eligibility requirements, their benefits would run out after two years rather than the current five. By doing this, we could save $847 million in 2009-2010, and ultimately $2 billion in 2012-13. Now that's real savings.
While the Governor and I are working to cut government waste and fix broken programs, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has decided to boycott such negotiations which could cut wasteful government spending and close the states $26 billion deficit. It is crucial that all legislators step up and participate in fixing our states problem. No action is the worst type of action and time is of the essence.
The reality is that our state has run out of money. We have over spent for years and now the painful effects of past decisions have caught up with us. The truth is, CalWORKs is a broken program and California is no longer able to support expensive programs where such abuse of the system occurs.
California must now make the tough decisions to reform old business practices here in Sacramento and make government more accountable for its actions. California's government has grown too large and we can't afford it. We need to learn to live within our means and take into account real fundamental reform in order for us to regain our competitiveness and get back on the right track.