Monday, March 1, 2010

Thinking About Welfare

In my Contemporary Social Issues and Policies class, a major topic of discussion is the Feminization of Poverty and Welfare Reform. While welfare reform was largely considered a “success” during the 1990s when the economy was growing and jobs were readily available, this is not so much the case today. We all know that in recent years the economy has been in a continual decline and jobs have become less and less available.

The intent of welfare reform, which was initiated through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, was to cut back on welfare rolls. Welfare reform was especially directed at mothers with children and sought to encourage these women to enter the work force.

TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) eliminated welfare entitlement. Therefore, people who were eligible for welfare were no longer guaranteed assistance. TANF also put a time limit on federal aid and required all recipients (including single parents) to find work within two years of receiving aid.
In my class, we discussed how welfare reform promotes seemingly contradictory ideologies. On one hand, it encourages “liberal individualism” by advocating “personal responsibility” and “self sufficiency,” as it calls for mothers to be independent wage earners. Yet on the other hand, the legislation advocates “traditional family values” by encouraging marriage and two-parent families. TANF sought to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies” (Hays 2003: 17).

An article by Gina Adams and Monica Rohacek entitled, “Child Care and Welfare Reform,” discusses how child care was a key element of welfare reform. Although not all eligible families could receive adequate child care, “low-income working families that have NOT recently received welfare are LESS likely to receive assistance than those leaving welfare.” Therefore, child care “favors mothers who have been on welfare over equally poor mothers who have not.” This can be interpreted as a means of encouraging mothers to get off welfare by providing them with more assistance. Therefore, this seems to reflect the original goal of welfare reform which was to cut back on welfare and get women employed. However, if child care support isn’t there for working women, then I don't see how the system is going to work effectively.

Additionally, the article includes information in regard to a recent study of sixteen states which showed that low income families were generally not receiving adequate subsidies overall. The study found that no state was serving more than 25 percent of the families who would qualify for subsidies under federal income limits and some were even serving less than 10 percent.

The fact that the working poor are less likely to receive assistance than those who are transitioning off welfare can be seen as a gap in the social safety net. It is true that aid is not always available for those who need it the most.

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