This letter to the editor is in response to the recent article published in the Coast Report entitled “The challenges of student parents” written by the Views Editor, Justis Zimmerman.
When I read Ms. Zimmerman’s article, I admit to feeling upset and defensive for the student-parents I serve as the coordinator of the CalWORKs Program at OCC. I’d like to counter her viewpoint with facts about the campus-based CalWORKs and CARE Programs. These college categorical programs have stringent qualification requirements and the receipt of the state’s welfare benefit grant (CalWORKs) must first be met before the college can serve student-parents.
CalWORKs is California’s cash aid (welfare) program for very low-income families that is intended to meet basic needs. It provides education, employment and training programs to help families get jobs and move towards self-sufficiency. Child care, transportation, work expenses and counseling are available for families in work or school activities. Some conditions families with children must meet include:
- Recipients must be legal U.S. citizens.
- Mandatory child support enforcement.
- Unless disabled or otherwise exempted, adults must participate in the welfare-to-work program (college is allowable).
- Adults have a four-year lifetime limit to receive cash aid.
- Babies born into a family already on cash aid are excluded (no increase in benefits).
- The maximum aid payment for a family of three is $704/month.
My own 17 years of experience with the OCC student-parent CalWORKs population observes:
- Two-thirds of women report past or current domestic violence.
- Most are single mothers, but some are single fathers or two-parent households.
- Many are first generation college students.
- Several are former Foster Youth.
- Homelessness and food insecurity.
- Frequently struggle with Learning Disabilities.
- Often lack extended family support.
- Generational poverty is not uncommon.
- And, they work.
Ms. Zimmerman is correct in that although there are some campus-based student service programs which assist student-parents, they are underfunded and have narrow eligibility restrictions. Raising a family on public assistance is a truly challenging path for our OCC student-parents and I don’t want their dedication to their children, their commitment to their education, or their efforts to move forward in their lives to go unnoticed or marginalized. I would hope the Coast Report does a follow-up article to further inform and educate our campus community on the reality of a CalWORKs student-parent’s life.
— Vickie Hay, CalWORKs Coordinator