News Release

Tenth Anniversary of Welfare Reform


August 22 marks the tenth anniversary of President Clinton signing into law “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.”

Co-editor of the two-volume Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy, Mink said today: “Congress changed the welfare law last February, stepping up federal disciplinary control of mothers who need benefits — primarily by increasing the work participation rate each state must meet. Congress also created a funding stream for marriage and fatherhood promotion projects and invited states to divert their own TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] spending from cash assistance to marriage promotion. The Bush Administration has now produced new regulations for TANF, further tightening the vise on low income families on TANF. When they take effect, the new rules will narrow the range of endeavors that count towards satisfying the work requirement and will vastly increase the policing of welfare mothers by welfare bureaucrats. The rules demand that various activities be ‘supervised not less than daily,’ including homework. The already harsh welfare regime ushered in by Clinton-era welfare reform is about to become even more brutal, impoverishing and unforgiving. To paraphrase famed welfare rights activist Johnnie Tilmon, the brutal work regime within TANF will go hand-in-hand with the pro-marriage family formation regime to pressure low income mothers to trade welfare for ‘a man.’ This gives the lie to the mantra of personal independence.”
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Weiser, executive director of Stop Family Violence, said today: “The new TANF law appropriates $150 million per year for five years for ideologically driven, unproven and potentially dangerous Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood Programs. Few people realize that nearly two thirds of welfare recipients are victims of domestic violence; one third of them are currently being abused and depend on public assistance to help them escape to safety and rebuild their lives. Now, instead of receiving the help they need to recover from the abuse and become self-sufficient through education, domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse services, they will be encouraged to participate in programs that will prolong their involvement with, and make them economically dependant upon, their abusers. To put the scale of this misguided spending in perspective, the president’s 2007 budget requested a mere $177 million for all the Health and Human Services programs in the Violence Against Women Act, $143 million less than Congress was authorized to spend.”
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Jones-DeWeever is director of Poverty, Education and Social Justice Programs at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She said today: “Lost amid all of the 10th anniversary celebratory discussions that equate caseload reduction to welfare reform success is the on-the-ground reality of families continuing to live at the margins, struggling to make it, but in recent years, falling further and further behind. If the true goal of welfare reform is to spur self-sufficiency, then we must make sure that individuals have access to the tools that will create economic well-being and not merely be satisfied with shifting people from the welfare rolls to the rolls of the working poor. We can do better than that. By far, the best route towards true economic success is access to higher education; and welfare reform has greatly constricted that opportunity for those who arguably need it the most. To move welfare participants not only from welfare to work but into good jobs with good wages and, ultimately, into better futures, we must open up the doors to higher education and, in the process, get beyond the current narrowly focused, work-first approach which ultimately leaves most stuck in the dead-end, insecure doldrums of low-wage work.”

Dr. Jones-DeWeever recently authored the report “Resilient and Reaching for More: Challenges and Benefits of Higher Education for Welfare Participants and Their Children.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167