A proposal in California that would stiffen immunization requirements for children on welfare has quietly advanced in the Legislature, despite other vaccine proposals sparking protests at the Capitol this year.
Parents who receive benefits under CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program, are currently required to immunize their children. But, there’s a catch: They can claim their personal beliefs conflict with vaccinations.
Now, some lawmakers want to eliminate that excuse. Under Assembly Bill 283, parents who don’t vaccinate their kids may have their benefits reduced by fifty-dollars per month — a big hit for some families living below the poverty line. The proposal would apply to children under the age of six. Several years ago, lawmakers eliminated the so-called personal belief exemption for parents who did not want to vaccinate their school-aged children.
Supporters say the bill would improve the health of low-income children. It would also help families connect with medical services in order to access vaccinations.
Opponents argue child vaccinations should not factor into welfare benefits.
“Whether or not my children are vaccinated, they still need to eat,” said Candace Johnson, a parent and CalWORKS recipient who testified before a Senate committee Monday. “I still need to buy them bookbags, clothes for school, put gas in the car.”
The proposal advanced in the Legislature in the wake of several measles outbreaks in California this year.
Protesters have descended on the Capitol in recent months in response to another measure — Senate Bill 276 — which would give the state more control over when parents can rely on medical exemptions to avoid vaccinating their school-aged children.
AB 283 would likely impact fewer parents and children than that proposal. About 423,000 families in California receive CalWORKS benefits, according to data collected by the state Department of Social Services. It’s unclear how many of those families use the personal belief exemption to not vaccinate their children — but about 55 percent have children under 6, according to a bill analysis.
However, since the proposal would applies to children under the age of six, it would capture a segment of California’s child population that SB 276 would not.
The bill cleared the Assembly in May and now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.