Amidst a Child Poverty Crisis, an Open Letter to California’s Next Governor

Gavin Newsom on Tuesday night, when he handily defeated opponent John Cox in the race for California governor. Photo courtesy of Newsom campaign.

Governor-Elect Newsom:

Leading up to Tuesday’s victory, your campaign statements on poverty were bold. You’ve promised to make eliminating child poverty your North Star.

We know that priorities will get balanced against budget constraints in the upcoming year. That means that reducing California’s highest-in-the-nation levels of child and family poverty could get pushed back to next year, and then the next.

We urge you to keep childhood poverty at the forefront of your administration’s priorities. You have a call to action from the people of California to move the needle on child poverty. California is poised to lead the way, and you have the power to us get there. So as you spend money on treating the results of poverty — homelessness, the juvenile incarceration crises, the number of children in foster care — make sure you invest in ending deep child poverty to change lives and save taxpayer dollars by intervening in the root cause of our greatest challenges.

More than 45,000 Californians have signed up to be active in the End Child Poverty in CA campaign. So when the pressure comes to wait another year to tackle child poverty, we are ready to stand up. Theresa, one of our community members with End Child Poverty in CA, asked us to share this with you:

“I am a single mother with a 12-year-old, as of today we will be on the street. There is never any funding and rent is so high I could never afford even a one bedroom on a solo salary, not even at $11 an hour! I am beyond scared of losing my daughter – she is so smart and such a good girl. I beg you with tears streaming down my face to please help. I have exhausted all my funds on a hotel and need to check out today and have no idea where we will go, there is absolutely no worse feeling in the world than a mom not having any place to go with her child.

Please send this letter to the future governor, letting them know that Californians like me are demanding change.”

Theresa’s experience is not unique. We’re facing a moral and fiscal crisis in California. The promise of the Golden State, where hope and hard work pay off, is a pipe dream for millions of your constituents. Child care costs as much as university tuition — if parents can even find it, or piece it together as they work multiple minimum wage jobs.

Almost 2 million kids in California live in poverty. Close to half a million live in deep poverty, meaning their family of four has less than about $12,000 a year in income to live. These families often feel invisible, even though they’re doing everything they can to survive.

The effects of poverty — lack of prenatal care, lack of quality early care options, lack of preventive health care, lack of cash for food and housing — are felt by kids their whole lives. Kids growing up in poverty have worse health outcomes, worse career earnings and more involvement with the juvenile justice and foster care systems. These aren’t symptoms of parental failings; they’re symptoms of a system that’s set up for the poor to fail. They’re symptoms of racial and economic injustices that we have allowed to continue.

You know how dire things are. We’re here to say that you have support. California has its first-ever road map to end deep child poverty and dramatically reduce overall child poverty waiting for you. The state’s Child Poverty Task Force, created by legislation authored by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D), has been meeting for the past year to create a set of research-based, community-informed solutions that will dramatically reduce child and family poverty.

The recommendations include increased access to child care, a targeted child tax credit, expanded promise neighborhood networks, transitional supports for foster kids, rent stabilization for low-income families and more. These investments have a proven benefit for our communities, families and future.

We know this is going to be a battle, with many competing priorities. The solutions for ending child poverty aren’t simple, but the roadmap is clear. The 45,000 activists with End Child Poverty in CA, the individual members of the Child Poverty Task Force and the anti-poverty champions across the state are ready to make sure that the dream of a California for all becomes a reality.

Let’s get to work.

Conway Collis serves as the co-chair of California’s Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Task Force and is president and CEO of GRACE, a ministry of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul that is dedicated to reducing child poverty and expanding opportunity in America. Jackie Thu-Houng Wong is vice president of policy and advocacy at GRACE. 

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