Could California become the first state in the nation to do away with welfare?
That doomsday scenario is on the table as lawmakers wrestle with a staggering $24.3 billion budget deficit.
County welfare directors are "in shock" at the very idea of getting rid of CalWORKs, which has been widely viewed as one of the most successful social programs in the state's history, said Bruce Wagstaff, director of the Department of Human Assistance in Sacramento.
"It's difficult to come up with the right adjective to react to this," Wagstaff said. "It would be devastating to the people we serve."
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H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said California is in an unprecedented fiscal situation that has made all programs, from education to human services, vulnerable to deep and painful reductions.
"I don't wish for a moment to minimize the profound impact" that eliminating CalWORKs would have, Palmer said. "But the easy decisions are way past being in the rearview mirror for us. We face the specter of California not having cash on hand to pay its bills in July."
Wagstaff and other administrators are betting that the state will rescue the "welfare to work" program. But they are bracing for cuts that would slash benefits to the lowest levels since the late 1990s, when CalWORKs began as part of the federal government's bold reform of the welfare system.
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