Welfare reform briefly became a hot topic on the campaign trail last year when Hillary Clinton was criticized for supporting the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, signed into law with great fanfare by her husband, President Bill Clinton, who famously declared that the law would “end welfare as we know it.” The law did precisely that, turning the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, which came along with stringent requirements for the people, most of them women, who received it. Since that time, extreme poverty has spiked in the country, and the share of single mothers with no income or benefits has gone from 12 to 20 percent. But welfare rights activists never stopped fighting for their rights, and many are backing a bill being reintroduced by Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, the RISE Out of Poverty Act. I spoke with several supporters of the Act at the People’s Summit in Chicago recently.
Pat Gowens: The RISE Out of Poverty Act would say that instead of only allowing mothers to do this unwaged work, that women could do their mandatory hours on job search, number one, and they could also do it going to college. They could get a two-year degree, a four-year degree, and that would could as employment. In the states right now, they can require the mother to leave their babies at two months, three months, whatever, one year. In Wisconsin it is two months. At that point, the children have no one on one care anymore from their mom and the mom has to, again, go into that unwaged workforce or, if they can find a job, the paid workforce.
This would say the states couldn’t do that. They would have to at least let the mothers be home—right now it isn’t clear whether it is going to be one year or whether it is going to be more. It’s up for grabs, because the bill is being revised.
Then, there is a third thing. The states wouldn’t be able to only say they cut the rolls. The law would have to be changed to say the states have to reduce poverty and increase employment, not just say, “Well, we cut a million women off this year” and they are all in the streets with zero income, or they are working for…probably ninety-six people are working for no pay at their Head Start. The states would have to prove that they are reducing poverty.
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