The Senate Human Services Committee today voted down a bill by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) to help move families out of poverty through a holistic approach that addresses the root problems of their individual circumstances. She issued the following statement after the vote (1 “aye” and 3 “noes”):
“With homelessness being a top priority for the Senate this year, I am disappointed by today’s outcome. I understand the concerns raised by the Senate Human Services Committee regarding drug and alcohol testing in programs that choose to implement such accountability tools.
“However, I could not accept the proposed amendment that would have gutted the core element of my bill – allowing anti-poverty organizations to conduct mandatory tests for drug or alcohol use if they choose to do so. My bill will not cause participants to lose their shelter and services if they fail an alcohol or drug test, as some fear. Proven programs in the non-profit world have demonstrated that this is not the case.
“The good news is that these programs will continue to do their good work as they have always done. The bad news is that they will not receive additional state funding to expand their successful programs. This misses the opportunity to provide structure and accountability needed to end the cycle of despair and dependence for more individuals. I thank Senator Mike McGuire, the chair of the Human Services Committee, for working with me to find a compromise. I will continue to work with him and his colleagues and hope to earn their support in the future.”
Senate Bill 659 would have required the California Department of Social Services, in consultation with the County Welfare Directors Association of California, to design and implement a five-year pilot project to provide grants to organizations that assist individuals receiving CalWORKs benefits in achieving economic independence and to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs funded by the grants. It would require that such organizations maintain a sober environment for the people it serves. SB 659 would fund successful programs similar to Solutions for Change located in Vista, Esplanade House in Chico and Saint John’s Program for Real Change in Sacramento.
SB 659 would have spent $50 million from the state’s General Fund over five years for the purposes of funding the pilot project as described. Bates’ bill is supported by organizations including the Western Center on Law & Poverty, County Welfare Directors of California, Community Action Agency of Butte County and the Lutheran Office of Public Policy.
SB 659 has also attracted the positive attention of the Sacramento Bee. One of its columnists called SB 659 “one of the more interesting bills” on homelessness in an article last month. In a January 4th editorial, the Bee’s editorial board wrote:
“Democrats would do well to listen to Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel. Bates sees a need – as does The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board – to spend some money on housing that caters to formerly homeless people who seek drug- and alcohol-free housing.”
In support of SB 659, participants from Sacramento’s Saint John’s Program for Real Change testified today about how that program helped them to stay sober and get back on track. They said that alcohol and drug testing were integral to their recovery as it helped to keep them accountable and able to provide for their children.