SACRAMENTO (AP) — Families would no longer have to give up their vehicles to receive welfare if a bill passed Thursday by the Assembly becomes law.
AB2352 would do away with a so-called asset test that prevents families with vehicles worth more than $4,650 from participating in the welfare-to-work program known as CalWorks.
Lawmakers passed the bill 41-24 on a party-line vote, sending it to the Senate.
Republicans objected that the bill could result in luxury vehicles parked outside welfare offices, but Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, the bill's author, said people who have lost their jobs need reliable vehicles to seek work.
"The primary goal of the CalWorks program is to move families out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency," the West Covina Democrat said. "By eliminating the vehicle asset rule, we have the chance to help impoverished Californians."
He added that the change also would provide relief to financially strapped welfare departments by eliminating the time-consuming vehicle assessment that workers must perform every time a new client comes in.
California's vehicle asset cap was last increased 16 years ago and is one of the most restrictive in the nation, along with Texas and Idaho.
To some Republicans, the bill creates a potential image problem for the state's welfare program.
"The problem is there's no limit on the cap, and when you have folks that are driving around in luxury vehicles seeking state assistance from taxpayers, it sends a wrong message," said Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore.
While he agreed that the $4,650 cap should be raised, Jeffries said the state should still impose some kind of vehicle asset test.
More than a dozen other states have moved away from setting limits on what families can own before they qualify for government assistance.
Advocates for the poor say vehicles should not be considered in asset tests because they help people look for and keep jobs. They say a vehicle worth less than $5,000 is sure to have high maintenance costs.
And with the recession pushing once-middle class families into poverty, more people may have higher-end vehicles that were purchased in better times.
Lawmakers last year approved an identical bill, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, saying the state couldn't afford the change.
Hernandez introduced the legislation again this year because he thought the state's fiscal situation might improve, said his legislative aide, Mary June Flores. She said the lawmaker is in talks with the governor's office, but it is possible the bill will meet the same fate as it did last year.
"I think it has a fair chance," she said. "It don't know if it has a better chance."