Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I am inching my way through some books on welfare, welfare reform, welfare racism.

The first one was really moving, the author interviewed 30 women on welfare (from different states, different regions, different size/type of town/city/rural area), who have kids. The book goes topic by topic & you see the women’s situations compared to each others . . . there are so many common themes. Hard-work, determination, hopelessness, abuse, abandonment, lack of education. So, so many cases where the women were abandoned by the fathers. Lots of abuse, and a surprisingly high number of women who were married to the father of their children . . . and the father left the family or was abusive or was an addict. Not as many cases of women who were never married.

There were a couple examples of women who were disabled or who were unable to work because there simply was no work in their area. The majority (and I mean like 90%, not 60%) had worked since they were teenagers in factory jobs, waitressing jobs, caregiver jobs. The problem is that the work available in their area, that they could get to with their transportation, that they were qualified for – was so low in pay and benefits (no flexibility on hours, if your kid is sick you lose your job, no health benefits, no vacation) that in order to survive they had to get on welfare. And still they lived a meager existence.

In the welfare reform book I learned that each state is different, but that the 1996 federal reform act required states to make ALL welfare recipients work. Some states (possibly all of them) have exemptions to hand out to special cases (where someone physically can’t work, for example). Some states use all their exemptions, some states barely use theirs. The percentage of exemptions was very small compared to the percentage of cases who had to work.

What I’m seeing over & over is that the requirements put upon those who get welfare benefits, and the training/education opportunities just don’t do enough to actually lift the families out of poverty. So the families aren’t getting welfare any longer but they’re still living in poverty, and now mom isn’t able to be in the home at all to parent her kids.

Did you know that in the beginning, welfare was given out to women whose husbands had died, because women weren’t yet enough a part of the workforce that without a husband/provider, the family would starve? And that only women who were seen as “good” and “worthy” were given benefits? The women who had children out of wedlock or who left abusive husbands (and surely other situations) weren’t allowed benefits because they weren’t seen as promoting the ideal values for society?

The actual purpose of welfare in the beginning was to allow women to stay home and raise their children because this is how you created a healthy society. But today if you want welfare benefits you have to work or prove that you are actively seeking work, or are in some sort of educational program (and often then you still have to work).

Women who receive child-support payments from their children’s father only get a small portion of the payment (something like $50 a month) if they are on welfare. The state takes everything over $50 to offset the benefits they are giving to the woman/children. So even if a woman gets a total of $500 worth of benefits from the state, if her ex pays $700 in child support, she gets $50 while the state gets $650.

This may vary state-to-state or it may be all states, – did you know that there is a 5 year cap for receiving benefits? And many states don’t allow those to be consecutive years? Some states have a system like this: 2 years on benefits, then you must survive for 2 years off. Then you can have 2 more years, then you have 2 more years off. Then you can finish up with your last year of benefits, and then you are done and can never receive benefits again, no matter what.

Did you know that some states give as little as $64 a month for children born to a mother who is on welfare? There may be other states that give more or less but I don’t have that info. That doesn’t seem like a big incentive to have a child to me. AND those benefits are not necessarily cash!

Did you know that some states give ZERO benefits for a child born to a mother who is on welfare? Again – speaks to the motivation of women having babies so they can live off the state via their children.

When the 1996 welfare reforms went into place, a ton of money was put into the welfare system . . . also a ton of regulations, to the point that resources were spent on creating duplicate forms in multiple formats . . . entering data into multiple databases . . . training & re-training & re-training. Red tape grew & grew & grew. Employees who worked for welfare agencies were given raises while benefits to the individuals on welfare were actually cut.

The number of benefit cases from 1997 – 2001 were cut in half! It is harder to get welfare, it is harder stay on welfare, it is harder to transition from welfare to an above-poverty situation, it is harder to manage welfare.

Yet the myths - that most people on welfare are freeloaders who are lazy, don’t work, are milking the system and live on welfare their entire lives - persist.


Nic said...

I find it really sad how divorced welfare entitlements have become from the reality. In the UK things aren't yet as strict as the USA but (especially with the new Conservative *cough spit* government) it is heading that way fast.

When I got back to the UK from three years abroad and it took a while for me to find work, I couldn't claim job-seeker's allowance because I hadn't paid into the system during the last 3 tax years. Never mind the fucking HUGE contributions I made before I left when I had a really well-paying job.

Have you read 'Nickel and Dimed' by Barbara Ehrenreich? If not, I think you'd find it fascinating.

Ashley said...

That's one of the books I was reading! I have several others by her on my reading list. I keep an Amazon wish list under my email, not for people to buy things, but so I can keep track of books I want to read. Lots of stuff under the broad topic of social justice. Check it out, maybe you'll find something interesting.

There are definitely people abusing the welfare system, and it is inefficient and broken in many ways . . . But those abusers are the minority. For me, until other agencies step up (*coughCHURCHcough*) or are enabled to do more through larger donations (charitable service orgs), our imperfect government system should remain. There are so many who need help - most who, like you, wouldn't need or want to be on it forever.

Caro said...

Whoa. What an eye-opener. Things really aren't always what they're painted to be, eh? Thanks for sharing, I found it truly fascinating.

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