UPDATE: Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 557 into law on Oct. 12.
When Tiffany Graves left her abusive partner last year, she walked out of the house with her two children and little else.
A public benefit known as CalWORKs, California’s version of welfare, helped Graves and her children get by until she found a job.
But, despite telling the CalWORKs caseworker that she was a domestic violence victim, Graves was not given any resources for safe houses or other nonprofits that help those in her situation.
A new bill from Baldwin Park Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, AB 557, aims to change that by making it easier for domestic violence victims to receive CalWORKs and ensuring that caseworkers offer resources to survivors.
The bill, which both houses of the state legislature unanimously approved earlier this month, is on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. He has until Oct. 15 to sign the bill, which would take effect in January.
Five California organizations that help domestic violence victims and low-income residents sent Brown a letter in September urging him to sign the bill.
“We know right now that national studies have found that over half of women receiving public assistance have reported being victims of domestic violence,” said Jacquie Marroquin, director of programs for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, one of the organizations that signed the letter to Brown.
The way the system operates now, it has sometimes “put people in a position to have to chose between being homeless and being in an abusive relationship,” Marroquin said. “The bill will provide someone the option to not have to make that choice.”
The California Work Opportunity and Access to Kids program, the full name for CalWORKs, can temporarily provide parents with money for housing and other necessities. Recipients have to meet certain requirements, but under Rubio’s bill, counties would waive a few of the rules for recent domestic violence victims.
Because they have sometimes fled without important documents and relocated to a new area, recent victims can have trouble making sure their children are up-to-date on all vaccinations and school enrollment, two requirements of CalWORKs that the bill would waive.
The bill would also require counties to provide victims with contacts for domestic violence support organizations and other resources.
The state Department of Social Services would report annually to the legislature how many CalWORKs applicants report having experienced domestic abuse.
In addition to the California Partnership, the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Black Women for Wellness
and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice signed the letter to Brown and are co-sponsors of the bill.
Graves, who lives in Sacramento with her two children, spent months trying to find housing and help her family recover. Eventually, they moved into a Salvation Army shelter and Graves enrolled in a nine-week job-readiness course through the local nonprofit Women’s Empowerment.
In those nine weeks, she “moved from being a victim to a survivor” of domestic violence, she said.
She got a job as a cashier before the course was complete and, in late September, she was preparing paperwork for an affordable apartment and interviewing for an administrative job at a nonprofit.
“Today I just did something I never thought I would do,” she said the day of the interview. “I got to go to an interview for a nonprofit organization and sell myself and tell them why I would be a perfect candidate for their company.”