News Release

“Welfare Reform”: Five Years Later

Wednesday (Aug. 22) marks the fifth anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of the “welfare reform” law. Re-authorization for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the program that came out of the 1996 legislation, will be a subject of controversy during the next year. The following policy analysts are available for comment:

NOEL A. CAZENAVE
Co-author of the just-released book Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America’s Poor and associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, Cazenave said today: “The deployment by politicians and the media of racist images of lazy and sexually promiscuous black ‘welfare mothers’ facilitates the enactment of ostensibly color-blind, but in fact racism-driven, policies and programs. While in such punitive welfare initiatives African Americans are more likely than European Americans to be sanctioned off of welfare, ultimately — when welfare racism goes unchallenged — all poor people, regardless of their race or ethnicity, are harmed.”
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ANN WITHORN
Author of For Crying Out Loud: Women’s Poverty in the United States and professor of social policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, Withorn said today: “Welfare rolls dropped by more than half nationally since 1996 — but poverty for single mothers is only down 0.7 percent. Just because families are off welfare doesn’t mean they’re out of poverty; indeed, they may be in greater jeopardy. Living without a backup, going from one low-wage job to another, calling on relatives and friends who are themselves stretched to the limit, destabilizes everyone, especially children. So family homelessness is actually up. There’s talk of ‘personal responsibility,’ but what about the public’s responsibility? We were so fearful of making poor people dependent that we failed to create a dependable safety net for all as the economy worsens.”
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KATE KAHAN
Executive director of Working for Equality and Economic Liberation, a group formed in response to the welfare law of 1996, Kahan is a former welfare recipient. WEEL is based in Montana, the home state of Sen. Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which will be dealing with TANF re-authorization. Kahan said today: “The goal of welfare ‘reform’ was to reduce caseloads, not to reduce poverty. People can be sanctioned off welfare for being five minutes late for an appointment. In Montana, our child poverty rate has gone up to 21 percent…. I got on welfare in 1993 after leaving an abusive relationship. The welfare system today is so intrusive and degrading that many women are staying in such relationships.”
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GWENDOLYN MINK
Author of Welfare’s End, Mink said today: “The only positive aspect of the 1996 welfare law is that its block grants expire in 2002. This means that TANF will have to be re-authorized, which presents an opportunity to fix the ways it abuses poor women and their families. However, re-authorization also offers the forces of patriarchy an opportunity to tighten the screws on poor women. Already, we can hear the drum roll for fatherhood and marriage provisions as the ‘next steps in welfare reform.’ Aside from the fact that government should not be messing with intimate decisions about family formation and parental relationships, this focus on getting mothers to ‘marry out’ of poverty totally begs the question of why so many mothers are poor. Even for former TANF recipients who have played by all the rules, employment in the labor market earns them on average only $7 per hour — hardly a living wage for one person, let alone for a mother with a child to support.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167