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Thursday, January 24 , 2019, 5:29 am | Fair 42º


Tony Strickland: It’s Time to Eliminate Government Waste, Fraud and Abuse

CalWORKs is among state programs in need of reform in order to better serve citizens

The clock is ticking on California’s budget crisis. Each day that passes without a budget, the state’s projected $26 billion deficit grows. Politics as usual must give way to reform.

We are battling a combination of overspending and shrinking revenues, and voters have their own concerns. A retired nurse from Santa Barbara called my Capitol office last week. She was worried about the waste, fraud and abuse taking place within the health care industry. She said real lives were being affected, and wondered how long this could continue.

Among the state’s programs designed to help citizens in need — yet are mired in 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.

As 12 percent of the nation’s population, California is home to about one-third of welfare recipients through this program. Sadly, only 22 percent of CalWORKs recipients meet the federal minimum work requirements. And that is down from 42 percent in 1999. Incredible statistics.

A performance level of only 22 percent is a dire statistic in any endeavor, be it work, school, sports or, especially, a taxpayer-funded program designed to help those in need. 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 temporary 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 aren’t 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. Further, the low work-participation level of CalWORKs brings with it the threat of fines to the federal government of up to $180 million this year.

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, the benefits would run out after two years rather than the current five. By doing this, we could save $847 million in 2009-10, and ultimately $2 billion in 2012-13. Now that’s real savings.

However, to achieve reform and the subsequent savings to our state, our government leaders must come to the table prepared to talk. We have overspent for years, and now the state is out of money. CalWORKs is a broken program, and California is no longer able to support expensive programs where such abuse and lack of management of the system occurs.

California must now take a hard line to reform failed business practices in Sacramento and make government more accountable for its actions. California’s government has grown too large and we can’t afford it. We must fix the cracks in the dam and stop overspending, and take into account real fundamental reform in order for us to regain our competitiveness and ensure our future prosperity.

Sen. Tony Strickland represents California State Senate District 19, which includes portions of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

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