Welfare Reform after 9/11

Betty Reid Mandell

[from New Politics, vol. 8, no. 4 (new series),
whole no. 32, Winter 2002]

BETTY REID MANDELL is a member of the NEW POLITICS Editorial Board.


"To give aid to every poor man is far beyond the reach and power of every man . . . Care of the poor is incumbent on society as a whole."

-- Spinoza, Ethics, Appendix, 17 (1677)

I WRITE A COLUMN CALLED "SURVIVAL TIPS" for a welfare rights newspaper, Survival News. It is a list of resources for low- income people, telling them where they can get money in a crisis to help them pay for rent, food, or utilities. The paper comes out twice a year and as I write the column in October, I find that there are many fewer resources than there were in June. Here in the Boston area, The Salvation Army and Roxbury Multi-Service Center say their money for crises has run out and they won't have more until January. Two agencies ask me not to list them again as they have such a long waiting list of people needing help. All of them ask me to put in the caveat "depending on funds." By the end of November, 318 families with nearly 800 children lived in 21 suburban motels across the state, more than triple the number five months ago.1 They live in cramped quarters on busy highways far from their jobs and schools without cooking facilities or refrigeration and far from a grocery store. This situation is being duplicated across the nation.

The hunger crisis existed well before September 11. Between March 1997 and March 2001, the number of Americans served by private emergency food sites grew from 21.4 million to more than 23 million, according to a survey done by America's Second Harvest, a national network of nonprofit food banks that provides 80 percent of the food distributed by private charities.2 During the same period, the number of people who used food stamps dropped from 21.9 million to 17.7 million, according to the Agriculture Department.3 The food stamp program was cut by $26 billion over six years in the last farm bill, as part of the 1996 welfare overhaul. Congress also instituted more stringent rules to reduce fraud in the program. That led many states to increase the paperwork required to receive food stamps, which helped discourage as many as 12 million eligible people from applying for food stamps.4

Tommy Thompson, now director of the federal Health and Human Services Department, created one of the toughest welfare systems in the nation in Wisconsin when he was governor. Consisting almost entirely of forced work, it became the model for welfare reform nationwide. It has apparently caused a sharp rise in infant mortality in Wisconsin between 1997 and 1998. The rise was especially sharp, 37 percent, for African Americans, who are disproportionately represented on welfare in Milwaukee.5 Epidemiologists are tracking every one of the dead babies to determine their family history of welfare. Their hunch is that the sudden spike of infant deaths is a result of welfare reform because they had already noticed a decrease in the use of prenatal care and increases in hunger among the post-welfare poor.6

Private Charities Face More Demands, Less Money

THE SHIFT FROM FOOD STAMPS TO PRIVATE AID is widening, even as the Bush administration urges religious charities to provide more charitable giving. Religious groups, however, which run most of the food pantries and kitchens, strongly support increasing money for food stamps. Rev. David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, a group made up of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, said, "We think there is no substitute for a strong food stamp program. It is much better for kids to have their Mom and Dad serve them food around the table rather than drag them into a food kitchen. And I'm not sure we churches, synagogues and mosques can keep up with the demand."7

Except for a generous outpouring of giving to the victims of the attacks, many charities nationwide have experienced sharp drops in contributions since September 11. Even before the attacks, people were reacting to the economic pinch by cutting back on their giving. Between October 2000 and October 2001, contributions to human services declined from 14 percent to 12 percent of all giving, and public/society benefit dropped from 14 percent to 9 percent. Almost half of the people surveyed by the Independent Sector of Washington said they would reduce their charitable giving in the next 6 months if the economic slowdown worsens, and 1 in 10 said they would completely stop their giving.8

President Bush has asked the Senate leadership to give federal money to religious charities, saying that all charities were hard-pressed to provide disaster relief for the victims of the September 11 attacks while helping the needy. The pressures from the war helped persuade Bush to eliminate the most contentious parts of his religion-based initiative to win passage of the law before the end of the year. A bill that has passed the House grants up to $13 billion in tax relief for charitable giving over 10 years.9

Health Insurance a Casualty

YOHANNES GEZU WAS A WELL-PAID WAITER at a big Chicago convention hotel before the 11th. Now he is lucky to get a few days work each week. He will soon be confronted with having to pay a $400-a-month premium if he wants to keep his family's health insurance.10

Sixty-five percent of Americans under 65 get insurance through their employer, and when they lose their job they often lose their health insurance, which could cost as much as $500 or $600 a month.11 Workers are allowed to keep their job-related insurance under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (Cobra) of 1986. However, the law does not apply to people who work for small businesses, with fewer than 20 workers, and it requires workers to pay the full cost of their health insurance premiums, plus 2 percent for administrative costs. That could eat up half or two-thirds of the average monthly unemployment benefit.12

At the same time, Medicaid -- the basic government program for covering low- income people -- is under increasing strain. Declining tax revenues because of the economy, rising health care costs and an expected jump in the Medicaid caseload because of layoffs all pose a problem to states, which share the cost of Medicaid with the federal government. And Medicare has already been cut back, forcing elderly people to pay more for their insurance and creating big problems for hospitals that depended on Medicare payments.

There is fierce debate in Congress about providing health insurance to people who have lost their jobs. The Democrats are backing a plan that would provide $9 billion to cover 75 percent of the premiums of people who have lost their jobs since September 11 and are trying to keep their private insurance. Their plan would also provide $5 billion to increase the federal contribution to Medicaid, and another $3 billion for states that want to help unemployed workers not otherwise eligible for assistance with coverage. The Republicans say the Democratic plan is too costly and runs the risk of creating an expensive new entitlement. They would provide a $3 billion grant to the states in the economic stimulus plan that passed the House, leaving it up to the states to decide how to allocate it. Democrats counter that the Republicans are more concerned about rewarding corporations with tax cuts than helping the unemployed. However, the Democrats' plan favors private insurance under Cobra, whose recipients are more likely to be middle class, rather than expanding Medicaid to cover those people. They believe that it would be easier to win support for funding to maintain private health insurance through Cobra than to expand government programs. (Low- income children are already covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program, although their parents and lower-income people without children are often not covered by any insurance.)13 Already there are over 44 million Americans without health insurance, and the number is growing.

Jobs Another Casualty

THE THOUSANDS OF JOBS LOST SINCE SEPTEMBER 11TH, added to an already sagging economy, will be a further strain on the fragile safety net. Critics of welfare reform predicted that it would fail in a faltering economy, and those predictions are coming true. About 2.5 million adults have left the welfare rolls since the 1996 reforms, many of them to become employed and many simply pushed off by tough laws or bureaucratic meanness, whether or not they found a job. Most of those who found jobs are working for low wages, in the kinds of jobs that are most likely to disappear in a recession; these include waitresses, maids, cooks and clerks. Many work in travel and tourism, the industries most devastated by the September 11 attacks.

Here are some numbers. Nearly 900,000 jobs have been lost since March 2001, nearly half of them in October alone, when 415,000 Americans lost jobs -- the most for a single month in more than two decades.14 Roughly a quarter of the lost jobs were a direct result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, according to Thomas L. Nardone of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "There is almost like a national hiring freeze," said Chris Varvares, president of Macroeconomic Advisers, in St. Louis.15 Even the temporary jobs are drying up. When the national unemployment rate rose to 5.4 in November, the service sector alone lost 111,000 jobs. Nearly all the loss was among temporary workers.16 This loss is not likely to be offset by the usual increase in hiring during the Christmas season. The San Jose Mercury News, for example, noted that retailers in Northern California expected to hire many fewer Christmas workers this year than last. Macy's expected to hire 9,000 seasonal workers this year compared with 12,000 a year ago.17

New York City has been especially hard hit by job losses. Nearly 4,500 members of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers have been laid off, and 1,000 others are working reduced hours. John Turchiano, spokesman for the union, said, "Our members have never been in this position before."18 Turchiano said that nearly all the layoffs were directly or indirectly related to the Trade Center attack. The Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-profit research organization, estimated that 65,000 jobs were directly affected by the World Trade Center attack, and that 43,000 more were affected by its spillover.19

When the first Twin Towers Job Expo was held on October 17, at least 8,000 people came, standing in a line that wound three times around the two square blocks at Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station. While many of them lost their jobs because of the attack, thousands more had been out of work for months. At day's end, about 2,000 were turned away when the Expo closed its door at least two hours before the official closing time.20 One employer who recently laid off 1,500 workers, Barry Sternlicht, head of Starwood Resorts & Hotels, had this to say about the layoffs: "We're talking about hourly people. People who have made the welfare-to-work leap and are really not equipped to take this kind of layoff."21 Before the welfare reform law of 1996 which imposed a five-year time limit on receipt of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), people could return to welfare, and federal financing automatically grew to meet demand. Now federal financing is fixed, and states have wide discretion in deciding whom to help. Welfare is no longer an entitlement.

During October and November, the number of people working part time jumped 1.1 million to 4.5 million. Most would rather work full time but can't.22 Many employers have hired part-time rather than full-time workers to avoid paying benefits. The director of a food bank in Seattle said that "the single fastest-growing segment of the people coming to food banks has been working families."23 Unemployment rose among every group, but African- Americans suffered the most: a 1-percentage point increase in their jobless rate in October alone, to 9.7 percent. Just last fall, black unemployment had fallen to a record low of 7.2 percent.24

Prior to the 1996 welfare reform law, many former recipients would return to welfare when they became unemployed. In fact, most welfare mothers were in and out of the work force, using welfare as a kind of unemployment insurance. As unemployment rose, so did the welfare rolls. This trend has been reversed. As unemployment has been rising, the welfare rolls continue to fall, in some places sharply. In Illinois, the unemployment rate grew nearly a percentage point, but the welfare rolls fell 30 percent. Florida had already cut its rolls 74 percent, but as unemployment grew there, the rolls fell 5 percent more. Pennsylvania followed the same trend.25 This is yet another indication that the purpose of welfare reform was not to help people in a crisis, but to slash social spending.

Wages that Don't Support a Family

BARBARA EHRENREICH POINTS OUT that "you can work full-time year-round in America today and barely make enough money for one person to live on, never mind a family of three or more."26 When millions of desperately poor welfare recipients were added to the work force, wages went down. There was a 7 percent decline in wages in one year after welfare, according to a study by the New York City Housing Authority. The National Council of Research on Women found a 35 percent decline in incomes of all female-headed families since welfare reform.27

Whether lowering wages was the primary reason for welfare reform is open to debate, but it was certainly one of its effects. Wages for people in the lower half of the income spectrum are lower now than they were in the 1970s. They haven't caught up to their 1973 level.28 A typical family coming off welfare, a mother and two children, would be at the poverty level at $13,000 a year, hardly a living wage.29 The Economic Policy Institute concluded, after reviewing dozens of studies on the cost of living, that a family of three needs $30,000 a year for a modest standard of living. Both Republicans and Democrats have been unwilling to pass a bill that raises wages $1 from the current minimum of $5.15 an hour.30 Only the living wage campaigns waged by progressives on campuses and in cities have been successful in raising wages. Even the modest wage raises that they win -- typically from $7.50 to $10 an hour -- don't begin to raise a family of three up to $30,000 a year.

Unemployment Insurance a Weak Safety Net

MOST FORMER WELFARE RECIPIENTS WHO LOSE THEIR JOBS haven't worked long enough or earned enough to be eligible for unemployment insurance, the nation's main safety net for the able-bodied unemployed. In Nevada, for example, a jobless person has to earn $5,600 in a three-month period to qualify for the average unemployment benefit. That's more than twice what a woman leaving welfare typically earns.31 Mark Greenberg of the Center on Law and Social Policy says that in the past only 10 to 15 percent of former welfare recipients were able to meet state thresholds like these, and those percentages are expected to rise.32

A strong unemployment insurance program could partially replace welfare for the unemployed, with less stigma attached to it. Universal programs that are available to the middle class as well as the poor are generally administered with more dignity than are means-tested programs designed solely for the poor. However, the amount of unemployment benefits varies widely between states, with some states giving over twice as much as others. Some states supplement the basic benefit with allowances for dependents.33 In 1996, only 36 percent of those technically covered by unemployment insurance actually received benefits when unemployed.34 More men than women were eligible in 1995 -- 80 percent compared to 74 percent of women.35

In their efforts to cut costs, businesses have pressured the states to cut unemployment insurance. The value of the benefits also dropped during the 1990s, as states tightened their benefits to reduce the unemployment tax on employers and to make states more attractive for executives looking for places to open businesses.36

States Face Falling Revenues

EVEN BEFORE THE SEPTEMBER 11TH ATTACKS, state governments were facing the deepest budget shortfalls in at least a decade, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Forty-four states reported that tax collections had dropped below forecasts made only four months earlier. At least 28 states are imposing or considering budget cuts, and many are using reserve funds. Governors and lawmakers are preparing for more bad news as the first reports on tax collections after September 11 arrive. In some states, the problem is exacerbated by the need to spend large sums on counter- terrorism efforts without knowing how much money to expect from the federal government.37 Forty-nine states are not allowed to run annual deficits (the exception is Vermont). When there are budget shortfalls, states must lay off workers and cut program benefits just when more people depend on them.38 Governor Jane Dee Hull of Arizona called a special legislative session in November to address a projected $1.6 billion shortfall in her state's $15 billion budget for 2002 and 2003. "People just aren't moving around and they're not buying, and those are sales- tax issues," Hull said. "And the layoffs that are occurring in every state will hurt income taxes."39 California is facing a budget shortfall of $12.4 billion, and Governor Gray Davis is cutting state programs, many of them in human services.40 In Massachusetts, the gap is $1.4 billion. Human service workers and clients in Massachusetts are in deep despair as millions of dollars are being cut from essential services.

Low salaries, extremely high staff turnover rates, and chronic worker shortages are rampant throughout all of the state's human services system, creating huge waiting lists and destroying any semblance of "continuity of care" for the most vulnerable citizens of the state.41 Direct care workers, who had won a salary increase earlier in the year, found that it was not to be funded. Funds to comply with a federal lawsuit that ordered the state to serve people on the waiting list of the Department of Mental Retardation were frozen.

Welfare Reauthorization: What Can We Expect?

THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND WORK OPPORTUNITY ACT (PRWOA) of 1996 (a.k.a. "welfare reform") which established the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is due to be reauthorized by September 30, 2002. For the past year, welfare advocates have been engaged in a battle to persuade Congress to replace the current, punitive system with one that combats poverty rather than people in poverty. The battle involves changing public as well as Congressional attitudes. Congress and President Clinton were able to pass the PRWOA because there was widespread support for forcing welfare recipients to work. Conservatives have been touting the success of TANF in reducing welfare rolls, without talking about the continuing poverty of the families of women who get jobs or about the more than two out of five women who have been kicked off the rolls without a job. The media have generally parroted their success stories, although the New York Times has occasionally printed articles about the real state of affairs.

The myth of welfare reform's success may be beginning to erode. A national poll conducted for Jobs for the Future reports that only 19 percent approved of moving people off welfare into jobs as quickly as possible if the jobs offered little chance of advancement. If people were still in poverty after leaving the welfare rolls, 52 percent would not feel that welfare reform had been a success. And 69 percent said that a family of four needs at least $35,000 a year to make ends meet. The public might be ready to support stronger job supports and removal of time limits that are forcing large numbers of people into poverty if they are better informed about the effects of welfare reform.42

The reauthorization of TANF coincides with the reauthorization of the Food Stamp program and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Congress will be looking at how these programs interact with TANF. Congress may also consider the kinds of assistance and support provided to low-income working families that remain below or near the poverty level. Reauthorization discussions may also address health coverage, workforce development, unemployment compensation, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).43

The Congressional perspectives on welfare reauthorization were outlined by Doug Steiger, staff member of the Senate Finance Committee, at a recent conference sponsored by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.44 The far right complains that states haven't lived up to the behavioral control measures in the PRWOA, such as encouraging marriage and discouraging single parents, particularly teenagers, from having more children. (During the presidential campaign, both George W. Bush and Al Gore promoted responsible fatherhood as critical to the next stage of welfare reform.) Devolutionist Republicans believe the federal government is too big and money should go to states for local control. Democrats are loosely split. The New Democrats focus on work as the only object of welfare reform. They care a little about making work pay by providing childcare and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. Liberal Democrats, such as they are (there are only a handful), recognize that some people are unable to work for various reasons, including domestic abuse, learning disabilities, low levels of education and training, mental or physical disabilities, or the care of a disabled child.

The overall perspective of Congress is that TANF has succeeded by and large. In the present militaristic climate, advocates' calls to divert military spending to meet domestic needs are likely to meet a deaf ear in Congress. The tax stimulus package that Republicans have submitted, done in the name of economic stimulus, gives most of the benefits to the rich. Judging from his past record, we probably can't expect any improvements in the welfare law from Tommy Thompson, director of Health and Human Services, although he does want to maintain the same level of spending in the TANF bill. Advocates object that simply maintaining the same level of spending is not enough because the block grant has fallen in real value by 13.5 percent since 1997. Congress is under the impression that states have not used all of their money, and at one point this was true. However, existing reserves are now being used as states have developed important new initiatives. States are now spending in excess of their annual block grant allocation. If block grants are not increased, states will face a serious funding shortfall.45

The House Committee on Ways and Means, in conjunction with the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, has conducted an extensive series of briefings for congressional staff on issues related to the implementation and impact of TANF.46 Even conservatives admit that the recession will cause some problems. Robert Rector, who studies welfare issues at the Heritage Foundation, predicted that the TANF caseload could grow to more than 3 million next year. He predicts a substantial expansion, but still far below the almost 5 million cases almost five years ago.

Yet both conservatives and centrists are painting a generally rosy picture of the success of welfare reform. Robert Rector reported a decrease in poverty between 1996 and 2000. The Urban Institute reports that the employment rate among single mothers increased 25 percent between 1994 and 2001.47 An article in The American Prospect by Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker speaks of "dramatic declines in poverty rates, especially for African-American families, whose poverty rates fell 5.7 percentage points between 1995 and 1999, while the overall rate fell by 2 points. (By 1999 the black poverty rate was 23.6 percent; compared with 11.8 percent for the overall rate.)"48

The authors go on to talk about the dramatic increase in employment for "a particularly disadvantaged group: young African-American women who didn't finish high school. Their rates of employment rose from 23 percent to 37 percent -- a whopping 14-point increase. The fact that this large increase partly reflects the work requirements in the 1996 welfare-reform law only underscores the importance of full employment in enabling poor women to move from welfare to work."49

None of these people talk about the increasing poverty among single-parent families, most of them headed by a mother, about the fate of those families whose mothers were kicked off the rolls without a job, or about how the so-called "dramatic increases" in black employment began from an outrageously high level of unemployment of African-Americans before the boom years. In addition, more than 2 million people, overwhelmingly minority, are in prison, and this skews the percentage. Bernstein and Baker at least are honest enough to admit that "the fact that one-quarter of teenage black job seekers unsuccessfully sought work in the 'best economy in 30 years' may seem to some a strange victory."50

The Mink Bill & Time Limits

REPRESENTATIVE PATSY MINK OF HAWAII INTRODUCED A BILL in the House that would shift the focus of current welfare law from reducing the caseload to reducing poverty. Some of its provisions are: rewarding states for reducing poverty rather than the present system of rewards for reducing the caseload; requiring states to ensure a minimum benefit that is no lower than the sum of the poverty level plus the amount (if any) by which the family's housing costs exceed 30 percent of the poverty level; providing a guarantee of childcare for recipients who are working, and for those who are within two years of transition off TANF whose income is below 25 percent of poverty; lifting time limits on training and encouraging education that helps single parents find long-term employment; mandating access to services for single parents who deal with barriers to work such as mental illness, physical disability and domestic violence; requiring states to screen for barriers that impede a recipient from meeting program requirements; rewarding states that do the best job of training caseworkers to screen recipients for those barriers; removing the present requirement for teenagers to live in a supervised setting in order to get assistance; counting care for a child who is under age six, disabled, or has a serious health condition as a work activity for the child's parent or relative caregiver; and restoring TANF benefits to legal immigrants.

Paul Wellstone plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate. The bill addresses many of the problems faced by welfare recipients, but it does not call for abolishing the five-year lifetime limit. Some advocates who favor abolishing the time limit, including the Welfare Made a Difference group in New York City, are urging people to lobby for this bill, arguing that all the protections built into the bill amount to abolishing the time limit, since everyone who makes a good faith effort to comply with these lenient program requirements will be exempt from the time limit.

But that's not good enough. Those of us who have been doing welfare rights advocacy in punitive states (and most states are) know that if welfare bureaucrats are asked for exemptions to the time limit, they are likely to find many reasons not to give the exemption, and they drag their feet while processing the request. We will not do recipients any favor by requiring them to go through this bureaucratic process each time they need some leniency. Federal law should recognize that there will always be families that need help periodically but who may not be exempt permanently.

The Mink bill imposes penalties on states that don't comply with its requirements, but that is no guarantee that states will comply. The present bill (Personal Responsibility Act) requires states to exempt parents from work requirements if their child is under six years of age and they have not been able to find childcare. Despite the penalty for states that don't comply, there are thousands of parents in many states who could not find childcare for children under six and were still forced to work, or were denied assistance even if they had no job.

The state of New York, which is required by its Constitution to aid the needy, provides powerful evidence for the importance of abolishing the time limit. Tens of thousands of families in New York are reaching the five-year lifetime limit on TANF. An estimated 13,700 families had their TANF grants cut by December 1, at least 30,000 of them in New York City alone. An additional 13,700 families are expected to hit their federal time limit over the next three months. Almost half of those losing grants from TANF have jobs, but with earnings so low that they receive a welfare supplement.

New York officials had proclaimed that people would automatically be shifted over to their Safety Net program without a hitch, but the real story is quite different. Rather than shifting them to the Safety Net program automatically, the city's Human Resources Administration summoned 10,000 to 15,000 of the affected families to apply for the program, at a time when welfare computer systems and legal services were still crippled by the attack on the World Trade Center. Advocates for the poor protested that errors were likely to interrupt basic support for many needy women and children. "Some people have received letters just a few days before the time limit denying them state aid, apparently in error. Others, in offices bristling with ominous posters about time running out, tried to apply for benefits but caseworkers told them -- within a reporter's earshot -- that it was too late."51

The American Friends Service Committee and the Unitarian/Universalist Committee are unequivocally against time limits, as are some other groups. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities doesn't call for abolishing time limits, but suggests flexibility in administering time limits when families are complying with program requirements.52 The Children's Defense Fund takes a similar position, recommending that states provide the necessary supports to families before they lose their cash assistance. Peter Edelman, who quit the Clinton administration after President Clinton signed the welfare law, said Congress should lift the time limits on TANF benefits if unemployment reaches six percent.53

Fighting Back

THERE ARE MANY ADVOCACY GROUPS WORKING ON REAUTHORIZATION. Some consist of professionals, such as the Children's Defense Fund, led by Marian Edelman, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Coalition on Human Needs. Others are religious groups, such as the American Friends Service Committee and the Unitarian/Universalist Service Committee, the National Council of Churches, and many other Catholic groups. Some are progressive social action groups that don't include welfare recipients, such the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support and the National Organization of Women's Legal Defense Fund (NOW LDEF). Others are grassroots groups consisting mainly of the people affected by TANF (welfare recipients and former recipients). Others are listed in the footnotes.54

Groups are in the process of clarifying their thinking and developing strategy. All seem to agree that reauthorization should focus on eliminating poverty rather than reducing welfare rolls. The professional groups tend to focus on jobs and the importance of providing necessary supports such as education, training and childcare. Recipients agree with this, but also ask for cash assistance for caring for children. Rinku Sen describes the conflict between The National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support and Grass Roots Organizing for Welfare Leadership (GROWL) over support for cash assistance. She says that "the platform of the Campaign has broadened its original narrow emphasis on jobs to incorporate support for cash assistance and income support to people who are not in the traditional labor market. The expansion of the Campaign's membership and platform are the result of a series of internal debates and tensions, some resolved, and some that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The political climate of growing hostility directed at poor people lay at the root of the Campaign's reluctance to take a strong stand for income support. It was welfare recipients who got the Campaign to see the ways in which gender discrimination forced women into low-wage jobs and discounted their care-giving as work."55

In order to achieve any substantive improvement in welfare, we will need a movement that takes it on as an important issue and wages a militant fight for it. The last time there was a substantial improvement in welfare was during the 1960s, when the energy generated by the Civil Rights movement was turned toward welfare. When George Wiley left his job directing the Committee on Racial Equality, he joined Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward in their campaign to organize welfare recipients. They expanded the welfare rolls, raised grant levels, won groundbreaking legal victories, and helped welfare recipients believe they had rights and were entitled to be treated with dignity.

Labor has joined the coalition to improve welfare. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO says that it is critical for Congress to provide a safety net for people who recently moved from welfare to work and into low-paying, entry-level jobs. Sweeney said many of them were in the hospitality and service industries, which had been particularly hard-hit since September 11, and they lacked health and unemployment benefits. "The situation is grim," said Sweeney, "Those who found jobs in boom times have no savings or means of support, and they are also most at risk to lose their jobs."56

Feminists have joined the coalition to improve welfare. Ms. ran a feature on Cheri Honkala, director of the Kensington Welfare Rights of Philadelphia, as well as other articles about welfare. Motherhood featured articles on welfare, including one by Barbara Ehrenreich and a profile of Pat Gowans, a welfare recipient who is director of Welfare Warriors of Milwaukee. Sojourner, a feminist newspaper in Boston, has a regular Welfare Beat column edited by a former welfare recipient. NOW has been active in campaigning for welfare rights, particularly on issues such as domestic violence, reproductive rights, anti-abortion regulations, and marriage requirements. A feminist film group in Quebec chose the work of Survivors, Inc. in Boston (a group that I helped found) as an example of low-income feminist activism in the U.S. It will be shown with other films of low-income feminist activism on five other continents.


IN CLOSING, LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO IMANI JOY, a welfare recipient in Boston. She testified at the Massachusetts State House against Governor Swift's proposal to force recipients to work when their children are three years old (rather than when their children are six, as at present) and to work 30 hours a week rather the present requirement of 20 hours a week:>

I challenge any one of you to trade places with any of us for a few months; to trade in all the securities which you take for granted in exchange for the "privilege" of receiving welfare. You have a cushion under you that protects you from the crises which women on welfare face every day -- life-and-death crises, like housing, food and heat. Imagine it. I urge you and your families to try to live on $500 a month, but don't worry, we will give you food stamps too, enough, if you are very clever, to last for two weeks out of the month, but don't worry, if they run out, we will also give you a food pantry, where you will wait for an hour out in the cold and rain with a baby in your arms to receive a bag of pre-selected cans, but don't worry because if you need to spend your little pittance of money on food for your family and can't afford heat, we will give you fuel assistance, enough to cover the first month or two of the winter, after that you're on your own, but don't worry, if you can't afford to have heat and eat and also pay today's rents, if you need emergency shelter we'll find you a motel, maybe it's in Springfield, and you'll have to withdraw your kids from their school to go there, but don't worry, because you are not alone, there are over 1200 other families in shelters and motels at this moment, all vying for the same scarce apartments, with not enough money or subsidy to actually cover the rents, and if the stress of living like this has not affected your health, your sanity or your children's behavior, if you happen to have no other issues at all that come from living unsupported by a system that thinks that giving you this little bit of money is a privilege, a system that degrades you for your impoverished situation, if you are still intact with all of these worries and are somehow still able to work 20, 30 or 35 hours a week to earn the privilege to this pittance of money, then you are all set because Gov. Swift has a great plan for you.


  1. Mac Daniel, "Survey shows hunger on rise since September 11," Boston Globe, 11/15/01. return

  2. Ibid. return

  3. Christopher Rowland, "Cast away from Boston," Boston Globe, 11/25/2001, pp. C1, C10. return

  4. Elizabeth Becker, "Shift from food stamps to private aid widens," New York Times, 11/14/01, p. A14. return

  5. Barbara Ehrenreich, "Nickel and Dimed: Women, Poverty, and Work," Mothering, November/December 2001, p. 42. return

  6. Ibid. return

  7. Ibid. return

  8. John O'Neil, "Charities get a big helping of uncertainty," New York Times, 11/12/01, p. F16. return

  9. Elizabeth Becker, "Bush plan would revise bill to aid charities," New York Times, 11/8/01, p. 17. return

  10. Robin Toner, "Sagging economy threatens health coverage," New York Times, 11/12/01, p. A12. return

  11. Ibid. return

  12. Ibid. return

  13. Ibid. return

  14. Louis Uchitelle, "Unemployment jumps to 5.4 percent, a 5-year high," New York Times, 11/3/01, p. 1. return

  15. Ibid. return

  16. E. J. Dionne Jr., "The people behind the jobless numbers," Boston Globe, 11/20/01, p. A21. return

  17. Ibid. return

  18. Bob Herbert, "Hungry and jobless," New York Times, 11/1/01, p. A27. return

  19. Edward Wyatt, "First Twin Towers Job Expo draws thousands of hopefuls," New York Times, 10/18/01, p. A21. return

  20. Ibid. return

  21. Jason DeParle, "A mass of newly laid-off workers will put social safety net to the test," New York Times, 10/8/01, p. A10. return

  22. E. J. Dionne Jr., op cit. return

  23. Ibid. return

  24. Louis Uchitelle, op. cit. return

  25. Jason DeParle, op. cit. return

  26. Barbara Ehrenreich, op. cit. return

  27. Ibid. return

  28. Ibid. return

  29. Ibid. return

  30. Ibid. return

  31. Jason DeParle, op. cit. return

  32. Ibid. return

  33. U. S. Department of Commerce, Statistical Abstracts of the United States. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census, 1997. return

  34. Williams, L., Unemployment Insurance and Low-wage Work. New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc., 1999. return

  35. Yoon, Y., Spalter-Roth, R. & Baldwin, M. "Unemployment insurance barriers to access for women and part-time workers," National Commission for Employment Policy, 1995. return

  36. Blau, J. The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. return

  37. Kevin Sack, "State budgets facing a fall in revenues," New York Times, 11/2/02, p. A12. return

  38. Robert Kuttner, "Revenue sharing, anyone?" Boston Globe, 11/19/01, p. A15. return

  39. Ibid. return

  40. Ibid. return

  41. Mass Human Services Coalition, State House Watch, Vol. XIX, No. 7, 10/29/01. return

  42. Sen, R., "The first time was tragedy . . . " Color Lines, Fall 2000, pp. 20-21. return

  43. Barry L. Van Lare and Gretchen Griener, "Issue Notes," Welfare Information Network, Vol. 4, Issue 8, p. 35, http://www.welfareinfo.org/issuenotereauthorization.htm return

  44. Melanie Malherbe, a lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services, attended the conference, and shared this information with members of the Family Economic Initiative. return

  45. Center for Law and Social Policy and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "TANF Themes," paper delivered at their conference in October, 2001. return

  46. Barry L. Van Lare and Gretchen Griener, op. cit., p. 36. return

  47. Ibid. return

  48. Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker, "Full employment at risk," The American Prospect, 11/5/01, p. 31. return

  49. Ibid. return

  50. Ibid. return

  51. Nina Bernstein, "Uncertainties loom as New Yorkers hit welfare time limit," New York Times, 11/30/2001. return

  52. "TANF Themes." op. cit. return

  53. Mary Leonard, "Battle brews on welfare law," Boston Globe, 11/15/01, p. A4. return

  54. Grassroots Organizing for Welfare Leadership (GROWL). A project of the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO), Oakland, CA http://www.ctwo.org/growl; e-mail: growl-ctwo@topica.com. Director Daniel HoSang, dhosang@ctwo.org.They are a coalition of nearly 75 grassroots organizations from across the country. They have organized Congressional lobbying, including a lobbying trip to Washington, DC, originally scheduled for September 11.

    Every Mother is a Working Mother -- Working Mother Network, PO Box 86681, Los Angeles, CA 90086; 323-292-7405. e-mail: 70742.3012@compuserve.com. They support welfare as a part of their "wages for housework" campaign, fighting for income supports for single mothers without forced work requirements. They have had demonstrations in the Los Angeles area.

    Welfare Made a Difference -- Liz Accles, National Coordinator, 39 Broadway, 10th Floor, c/o Community Food Resource Center, New York, New York 10006. Phone: 212- 894-8082; e-mail: wmadcampaign@yahoo.com, www.wmadcampaign.org. They have conducted forums by women and men from around the United States who have received welfare in the past to highlight the hidden stories about the importance of welfare as a lifeline and to challenge the public's and policy makers' misconceptions about welfare.

    Welfare Law Center TANF Reauthorization Page http://www.lincproject.org/tanf. The Welfare Law Center has compiled a list of welfare rights groups around the country, and conducts an e-mail discussion about welfare among the groups. Their Reauthorization Page includes helpful articles, including information on what TANF Reauthorization is and why advocates should be involved in the TANF reauthorization debate. return

  55. Rinku Sen, "Grassroots Forces Gather For Impending Welfare Battle," Color Lines, Fall 2000. return

  56. Mary Leonard, op. cit. return

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