News Release

“Welfare Reform” Entering 20th Year of Ensuring Poverty?


Bill Clinton signs welfare “reform” legislation in 1996.

Saturday, August 22 marks the beginning of “welfare reform’s” 20th year, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. See for a listing of upcoming events.

FELICIA KORNBLUH, fkornbluh at, @VTfeminist
Kornbluh is associate professor of history and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at the University of Vermont. Her books include The Battle for Welfare Rights: Politics and Poverty in Modern America and Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform After Twenty Years, (with Gwendolyn Mink), forthcoming.

Kornbluh said today: “Playing to a racist imagination and dealing in sexist double standards, Republicans and Democrats came together 19 years ago to transform income assistance for the poor into a system of regulation, deprivation and punishment. The legislation that established TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, made limiting women’s choices and ending single motherhood its goals. The nation’s chief policy dedicated to impoverished families with children did not include mitigating poverty, enhancing opportunity, or attenuating inequality as its goals. As a result, while welfare rolls have declined, poverty still stalks single mothers and their children — and extreme poverty is at crisis high levels. As we approach the 20th year of this disgraceful program, it is time to overhaul TANF principles and practices to support the family work single mothers do and open real pathways to economic security.

“TANF, which heaps unrealistic expectations about wage-earning upon people whose employers pay them less than enough to survive, and unrealistic expectations about balancing waged work and motherhood upon impoverished women, is not so much public policy as ANTI-public policy. The time for reexamination is long overdue.”

See: “Five Questions with Professor Felicia Kornbluh.”