Could you raise a toddler on $446 a month?
That's less than $15 a day to cover food, clothing, healthcare, housing and maybe a toy every now and then.
It's also nearly $250 a month less than the bare minimum the USDA found feasible in a 2009 study.
The state of California insists that $446 a month is plenty. But a federal judge has said no -- and ordered an increase, to $609 a month, in state payments to support foster children age 4 and under. Even that increase is hardly enough.
This is a budget story and also a human one.
One way the state has saved money during its never-ending budget crisis is to keep its social services payments low.
The result, after years of this, are payments that look shockingly low, particularly if you live in urban, coastal California.
The foster care payments are just one example. The maximum cash benefit for a family of three on welfare in the state is less than $700 a month.
California is so cheap in so many ways that the courts have had to step in, mandating a higher standard for everything from prison conditions to, now, support for foster children.
The solution to this problem isn't more austerity; that only guarantees that more and more of state government will be effectively run by the courts.
No, California needs to rebuild its governing system, and especially its tax system, to provide the revenues required for a 21st century state government.