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Newsom's Made Poverty a Priority—But Women Have Been Working on It for Years

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State Sen. Holly Mitchell has championed many bills aimed at ending poverty. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Children's advocates were thrilled when Gov. Gavin Newsom came out big for them on Jan. 10 in his first budget proposal. He called for phasing in universal preschool, putting money into state-funded child care and investing in education for child care workers. State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said it’s clear Newsom will be an ally on social issues.

"And we're also clear that we also helped set the table for him to have the luxury of coming in in 2019 and making these declarations and having money to spend," she said.

Mitchell points to the painful votes lawmakers — women and men — took during the great recession that cut social programs, and afterward, that ultimately built up the state’s reserves. During his budget press conference, Newsom called out lawmakers whose proposals he’d drawn from, including Mitchell. She ticks off the hard-fought bills she got passed when others weren’t talking about poverty.

"First increase in CalWORKs' cash grant in a generation. Elimination of a racist, classist, sexist policy — Maximum Family Grant," she listed. "More and more people at the table talking about child poverty.”

Over the years women have championed bills expanding access to child care, making diapers more affordable and increasing access to family leave.


Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said women leaders in the Senate and Assembly drove poverty-related policies even while the state was dealing with a budget crisis.

“You saw women stepping forward and saying that poverty, that family poverty, that poverty among female-led households, was an important policy issue," she said. "And you saw them apply this kind of creativity and big thinking that normally had been reserved for issues that weren't involving poor children and their mothers.”

Lawmakers acknowledge former Gov. Jerry Brown embraced some of their ideas, but somewhat reluctantly. In Newsom they see more of an enthusiastic partner in tackling issues like ending child poverty. Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Marina del Rey, has had several conversations with Newsom about the problem. She said the state has to do better.

“To say that you're the fifth-largest economy in the world and that you let your children live in that kind of distress, to me, says that we are not caring about the correct population. And we're not caring about the state as the whole and the people as a whole," she said.

Burke authored a bill that created a task force to study how to best lift kids and families out of poverty. Advocates are now urging lawmakers to act on the task force’s recommendations.

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