April 18, 2008
Imagine you are an unemployed single mother of two. In an effort to feed your kids-and keep a roof over your heads-you drive your ten year old beat-up Honda accord down to the local department of social services to apply for welfare.
After filling out a mountain of paperwork, the caseworker gives directions to some local employers that may be hiring. One catch though - you want the check to feed your family, you're gonna have to sell that car. Ya know, that car that you use to go to the grocery store, transport your kids, and....i dunno....get to work?!
Well that's the rule in California. California currently has the most restrictive vehicle allowance for welfare recipients - a distinction it shares with Texas and Idaho. Nationally, twelve states exclude all vehicles owned by a household when determining eligibility; another fifteen exclude at least one vehicle. In California, the total, fair market value of all vehicles owned by the household cannot exceed $4,650; a number that hasn't changed in more than a decade. In real terms that means even a 10 year old Honda civic with 100,000 miles could be worth enough to disqualify you from public assistance.
And California is certainly a driving state. According to the census bureau, only 5% of California residents commute to work using public transit, compared with 37% in New York State. And that's not surprising in a large diverse state, where even the cities are spread out (see: Los Angeles).
The connection between car ownership and employment is clear. A recent report by the County of Los Angeles found that an impressive 64% of welfare-to-work job seekers who had unlimited access to a car were gainfully employed, compared with only 44% of those who relied on public transit or sharing rides.
Yes, it doesnt make any sense. Thankfully a bill has been introduced in the state legislature that seeks to eliminate all vehicles from consideration in the CaWORKS/Welfare program.
There's potential for this bill to draw some real bipartisan support. Despite being championed by Assemblyman Fuentes, a democrat, the conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association just recently signed on in support. Just yesterday the bill was voted out of the initial committee - lets hope the legislature pushes this one along, and that the governor signs this long overdue rule change into law.