Anti-Poverty Advocates Say California Should Send $2,000 per Child to State's Lowest-Income Families

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A man walks toward a school with a young girl at his side and another child behind.
A man drops off his daughter at Sankofa United Elementary School in North Oakland on March 30, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers contemplate how to deliver the state’s surplus dollars back to Californians facing high gas prices and other rising costs of living, one group of advocates is pushing for another stimulus-like payment for the state’s lowest-income residents.

A coalition of anti-poverty organizations is calling for the state to send a one-time payment of $2,000 per child to families making less than $30,000 a year. More than 1 million families in the state would be eligible.

The proposal, sponsored by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat, is intended to partly make up for the expiration of last year’s expanded federal child tax credit payments, which provided as much as $3,000 per child — and $3,600 per child under 6 — to lower- and moderate-income families.

Researchers at Columbia University found that the expanded tax credit reduced child poverty by more than 26%, with greater reductions among Black and Latino children. Nearly 90% of families spent the money on basic costs such as food, clothing or rent, according to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Santiago said his proposal is a follow-up act on “the largest anti-poverty program we’ve had.”


Advocates have raised alarms since the end of the program's expansion in December, citing CBPP figures showing that 1.7 million California children are now at risk of falling back into poverty.

That, along with the Newsom administration’s Golden State Stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits, were among the handful of pandemic relief programs that came to an end last year. 

“When you’re making $30,000 or less for a family, they need immediate help,” Santiago said.

His legislation was heard Monday by the Assembly Revenue and Taxation committee, where it awaits a vote. The measure would cost $3.8 billion.

It is the latest of several proposals for how California could spend down the $31 billion budget surplus that the state is projected to have this year, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

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Officials already are considering several rebate ideas that could potentially help a wider pool of Californians deal with sky-high inflation and gas costs.

Newsom has proposed sending $400 debit cards to the owners of every registered car in the state, capped at $800 per individual, as well as $750 million to public transportation agencies to offer free rides for three months.

A group of Democratic lawmakers wants to give $400 rebates to all state taxpayers, regardless of car ownership. Both plans would cost around $9 billion.

But Democratic leaders have balked at giving tax relief to wealthy Californians.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins favor a $7 billion plan that would give at least $200 rebates to families making up to $250,000 a year. In March, Atkins said she was focused on “ensuring that state money is targeted to those who actually need relief.”

Advocates of the child tax credit idea say surplus spending should be even more targeted to help those most affected by rising prices.

The lowest earners are hit hardest by inflation and spend the largest share of their incomes on gas, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

“We’re really pushing for a focus on doing the most and as much as you can for the lowest-income households,” said Teri Olle, California campaign director for Economic Security Project Action, a group advocating for cash-assistance programs. “We know those are the households that are hurting the most.”

This article is part of the California Divide project, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.