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California’s Future: Social Safety Net

Caroline Danielson | January 2019


California’s social safety net is designed to help people in economic need. It also has several other short- and long-term goals, such as increasing employment, safeguarding adequate access to food, and improving children’s health. Safety net assistance takes a number of forms, including cash grants, nutritional support, housing assistance, and tax credits. The largest programs help millions of Californians each year. For example, in 2017–18, an average of about 1 million state residents—82 percent of them children—received monthly support from CalWORKs, California’s cash assistance program for families with children. And an average of 4 million Californians received a monthly food benefit from CalFresh, popularly known as food stamps or EBT. Safety net programs substantially moderate poverty, particularly among children. PPIC research finds that while 21 percent of California children lived in poverty in 2016, 35 percent would have been poor had it not been for safety net programs.

After several years of statewide economic expansion, both the CalWORKs and the CalFresh caseloads have fallen substantially—a sign that family budgets are improving. At the same time, nearly one in five Californians experience economic hardship. State leaders—including the new governor—will need to decide what further steps to take to address poverty in the state. Levers include expanding social safety net programs to help families afford the high cost of living and driving down the cost of living with additional, targeted housing policies. Uncertainty at the federal level about funding for key existing safety net programs (most importantly CalFresh) as well as the proposed broadening of the federal public charge rule—which will have a chilling effect on immigrant households with eligible members—will factor into these decisions.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing long-term policy challenges in 11 key areas:

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the PPIC Corporate Circle and the PPIC Donor Circle.

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