News Release

Debating Welfare: Interviews Available

BARBARA EHRENREICH
Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive and the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She said today: “In the ‘job-readiness’ programs routinely inflicted on welfare recipients since 1996, poor women have it drummed into them that by getting a job they will win ‘self-esteem’ and, at the same time, finally be able to provide a suitable ‘role model’ for their children. Stigmatizing unemployment, or, more accurately, unpaid, family-directed labor, obviously works to promote the kind of docility businesses crave in their employees. Any job, no matter how dangerous, abusive, or poorly paid, can be construed as better than no job at all. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, as ‘reformed’ welfare is called, does not of course rely on an intangible ‘ethic’ to promote work; it requires recipients to take whatever jobs are available, and usually the first job that comes along. Lose the job — for example, because you have to stay home with a sick child — and you may lose whatever supplementary benefits you were receiving. The message is clear: Do not complain or make trouble; accept employment on the bosses’ terms or risk homelessness and hunger. From a rational, economic, point of view, welfare reform has been an effort to provide American business with disciplined — and in most cases, desperate — workers.”
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NOEL A. CAZENAVE
Co-author of Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America’s Poor and associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, Cazenave said today: “The public assistance system in the U.S. has been racialized since its inception. Initially racism took form in the administration of the programs — African Americans were blocked from receiving benefits, or had benefits at a lower level. As AFDC was perceived as benefiting people of color, the attacks on it from politicians increased, culminating with the destruction of that program by Clinton in 1996. Now, Bush is using punitive work requirements that exploit stereotypes of lazy African American women, and this while they have to contend with an onerous bureaucracy as well as racial discrimination by both case workers and employers, and are penalized for engaging in childrearing that is not recognized as work.”
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LIZ ACCLES
National coordinator of Welfare Made a Difference Campaign, which counts among its members people who used to be on welfare, Accles said today: “Though welfare leaves people in poverty — a mother with two children in New York City would typically get $577 a month (with $286 of that supposed to cover rent) and about $250 in food stamps — it is still a crucial lifeline.”
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STEVEN SHAFARMAN
Executive director of the Citizen Policies Institute and author of We the People: Healing Our Democracy and Saving Our World, Shafarman said today: “Every American should have enough income for food and shelter. We should do this through a guaranteed basic income rather than a cumbersome welfare system. Further, this should be combined with having everyone volunteer eight hours a month. These would be mutually enabling and mutually reinforcing programs. Compared with Bush’s proposals on welfare and volunteerism, the Citizen Policies alternative would be both more compassionate and more conservative.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167