Welfare Moms

By Kay Steiger

While I was stuck on the airplane for many hours yesterday on my flight from Las Vegas, I finally got around to reading my copy of Mother Jones. In light of the recent reporting on Clinton’s welfare reform crunch, this article by Stephanie Mencimer seems particularly relevant. It’s about many women that qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (tanf) funds but are told incorrectly that they don’t qualify.

After interviewing dozens of clients of Liberty House, the Albany domestic violence shelter where Clark sought refuge, I discovered that getting tanf in Albany is virtually impossible. While most of the women were eligible for benefits under state rules, many had been turned away for some reason or another. A caseworker incorrectly told one woman that she didn’t qualify because her three kids—all under 15—were too old. Another, a 30-year-old with six kids between the ages of 2 and 12, had been in the shelter for a month after the district attorney from her hometown drove her there from the hospital. (“The guy that I was dating tried to kill me,” she explained matter-of-factly.) She’d applied for tanf to get subsidized child care and go back to work. But a four-hour visit to the welfare office produced nothing but a promise that she’d receive a letter with an appointment date. A month later, she still hadn’t gotten the letter. She says the county offered her three weeks of child care with the warning—false—that if she didn’t find a job during that time, she wouldn’t be eligible for tanf. “But if I find a job, I don’t need tanf,” she said with a laugh.

This is the result of pressure on states to reduce their welfare funds. This often happens when there’s a commitment from the top to reduce spending on something. What ends up happening is that those who could actually use the funds just end up not getting them instead of actually reducing the need for TANF funds. It just goes to show that reducing poverty is a problem bigger than welfare reform.