NEWSFLASH: California is Scrapping a Discriminatory Welfare Rule

California took a giant step toward economic and racial justice for women and families on Wednesday, when lawmakers came together to finalize the 2016-2017 state budget deal—and repealed the state’s Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule.

via Aidan Wakely-Mulroney and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0
via Aidan Wakely-Mulroney and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

The MFG rule prohibited individuals already on welfare as part of California’s CALWorks program from receiving additional aid when they had more children. Previously, exceptions to the MFG rule were only granted in cases where pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or from the failure of an IUD, a hormonal birth control arm implant called Norplant, or sterilization.

The MFG rule, which has been in place in California since 1994, perpetuated the myth of “welfare queens”—women belonging to racial minority groups that were said to take unfair advantage of the federal aid system—that originated during Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1976. Laura Jimenez, Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, criticized the rule as stemming from “racist, sexist stereotypes of women of color.” The fact that the rule stayed in place for over twenty years evidences the degree to which negative stereotypes about economically disadvantaged Black and Latina women are rooted in society to this day.

The repeal of the MFG rule comes after years of opposition. In 2012, Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored Assembly Bill 271, which aimed to repeal the rule but never reached the Governor’s desk. Twice more in 2014, Mitchell and others tried to combat the MFG rule. The repeal of the rule ultimately comes as part of a $171-billion California budget deal.

“It was lovely to see how when women work together, big things can happen.” said Nourbese Flint, program manager at Black Women for Wellness, “It was the most collective push and force behind legislation that I’ve seen in a long time.”

California is now the seventh state to put an end to this discriminatory practice, which was originally enforced by 22 states. The California Department of Social Services estimates that the repeal of the MFG rule will benefit close to 126,000 children in the state, providing families on welfare with an estimated additional $138 per child per month in aid. Though it may not sound like much, $138 can go a long way for families living in poverty when it comes to buying diapers, clothing, food and other basic necessities for newborns and small children.


Natalie Geismar is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where she double majors in International and Area Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is an ardent feminist with a passion for human rights work and advocacy of all varieties and hopes to become some combination of international lawyer/activist/journalist/Amal Clooney in the future.