Stop Punishing My Family for Being Poor

By 9to5 Los Angeles member Nicole Baldonado

During the recession in 2008, I found myself in a situation I never thought I’d be in. I went through a divorce, and ultimately lost my job and my house. I had nowhere to turn. I became homeless and moved into a family shelter, and it was there they helped me apply for CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work safety net program. I have three sons – ages seven, five, and one — and it’s tough to get by.

CalWORKs’ Maximum Family Grant rule makes it even tougher. Under this decades-old law, a family who has been receiving assistance from CalWORKs can’t receive any additional cash aid upon having a baby. This means that my baby is penalized for being born into a poor family, to the tune of $122 per month, and his brothers and I are penalized along with him. $122 might not seem like much, but it would make a huge difference — that’s diapers, baby aspirin, and other necessities.

I don’t want to be on welfare. It’s not like I’m sitting here getting rich off my $500 per month. I’m in school and trying to use CalWORKs benefits as a tool to get back on my feet and provide for my family. But that’s gotten even harder due to a policy change in the last couple years – during the time I’ve been on CalWORKs, they’ve cut the maximum assistance period for adults. When I first filled out my paperwork, I was told I could receive assistance for myself for 60 months. I went back to school, assuming that by the time I reached that limit, I’d have a degree that I could use to support my family. But after a while, I was informed that the time limit was cut to only 48 months.

I reached the limit in February, so now I’m no longer receiving assistance for myself. Combined with the Maximum Family Grant Rule, which unfairly assumes I’m trying to game the system, I’m left raising a family of four on assistance for two. I’m back in a position where I can’t focus on school while trying to keep a part time job — which in turn increases my childcare costs – at the same time as caring for my family.

Safety net policies differ from state to state, but across the country women like me are facing welfare policies that make it harder and harder to get back on our feet. Nationally, only a quarter of poor families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits at all – down from 68 percent of poor families before the 1996 welfare reforms. Families who do receive benefits, like mine, still don’t get as much support as they need. In every state, TANF benefits for a family of three are below 50 percent of the poverty line – and in most states, these benefits are below 30 percent of the poverty line!1 Since over 90 percent of adult TANF recipients are women, these cuts hit women and children the hardest.2

As a member of 9to5 Los Angeles, I’ve shared my story with my legislators and on NBC news, and I’m organizing with other CalWORKs moms to win policies that support us and our families. I want to get my degree, so I can get a job that will fully support my family.  But as long as safety net programs like CalWORKs and TANF fail to reflect the realities of our lives, women like me face an uphill battle trying to get back on our feet.


This blog post is part of 9to5’s collection The Face of the Wage Gap to illuminate the ways that the gap between the income of men and women has many factors and many necessary solutions. Please share these blog posts with your social media networks. 


  1. Floyd, Ife and Schott, Liz. “TANF Cash Benefits Have Fallen by More Than 20 Percent in Most States and Continue to Erode.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2014.
  2. 70% of the Nation’s Poor Are Women and Children.” Legal Momentum: The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.
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