DMI Blog

Elana Levin

more letters to the editor of the week. Welfare edition

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Welfare Reform. DMI fellow Maureen Lane has been in the paper, on the radio and on an excellent PBS podcast with Amy Goodman speaking about the need to fight poverty through access to education and how new changes to welfare rules are getting in the way.

Now while Maureen's own letter to the editor in the Times remains the official Letter to the Editor of the week I was so impressed by today's batch of letters to the editor that I wanted to share them with you.

I salute all people that are fighting for the government to create policies that are based on, as Maureen says "what we know works and what can work better" rather than creating policies that pander to resentments and myths.

Because so much of this story is misunderstood DMI's first "Ask a Fellow Podcast" will be with Maureen answering questions about Welfare Reform's 10th anniversary and where we go from here.

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Welfare Reform: Is It a Success? (4 Letters)

To the Editor:

As a retired administrative hearing officer for the Illinois Department of Human Services and a social justice activist, I believe that the welfare reform law was never about ending poverty. It was, rather, a salve for politically manipulated public anger at welfare recipients.

As a hearing officer, I heard the appeals of people who faced penalties for failing to comply with the law's work requirements. Many were single mothers "whose lives are so troubled that they are unlikely to hold steady jobs," as an Aug. 21 news article describes those for whom welfare "reform" has provided no answers.

To end poverty, we need the political will to mandate living wages; to ensure affordable child care, health care and transportation; and to help parents who are unable to work because of illness, domestic violence or other problems.

Amy Laiken
Chicago, Aug. 21, 2006
Published: August 23, 2006


To the Editor:

"A Decade After Welfare Overhaul, a Fundamental Shift in Policy and Perception" (news article, Aug. 21) and "How We Ended Welfare, Together," by Bill Clinton (Op-Ed, Aug. 22), paint a pretty picture of the effects of the 1996 welfare reform.

But there is another side of the story. While the number of people and percentage of the population living in poverty did decrease from 1996 to 2000, they steadily increased from 2000 to 2004, and the overall poverty rate (12.7 percent) in 2004 was the same as in 1998.

The situation is even worse for those in deep poverty -- defined as below 50 percent of the poverty level. Their numbers have swelled by more than a million since the beginning of the reform.

The increases in poverty since 2000 are partly due to the five-year lifetime limit on receiving benefits that was built into the 1996 law. By 2001, most families receiving such support were reaching the end of those limits, and those not able to find jobs had nothing to fall back on.

This situation is likely to worsen in the years ahead.

David S. Mason
Indianapolis, Aug. 22, 2006
The writer is a professor of political science at Butler University.


To the Editor:

Alas, "welfare as we know it" was ended by those who'd never known welfare or poverty.

For low-wage workers ineligible for unemployment insurance, welfare was how you made do when you got laid off or fired, including for being pregnant. It often supplemented inadequate wages.

For many, it gave a path out of violence. It represented a way to care for a newborn or a dying parent, get health insurance or avoid having to leave young children home alone.

Welfare recipients would tell you in a heartbeat that the system needed reform. But their wish list grew out of one goal: getting out of poverty. That was never the purpose of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, and it certainly wasn't the result.

We'll resolve the problem only if we name it correctly: the need to reform work and value caregiving.

Ellen Bravo
Milwaukee, Aug. 21, 2006
The writer is the former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.


To the Editor:

Congratulations about the success of welfare reform are premature. The number of women and children who live in poverty, combined with a flawed public education system and the absence of universal health care, bodes poorly for breaking intergenerational cycles of dysfunction.

Despite the need to double child-support payments, policy makers still focus on stiffer work requirements, extracting more hours of work from single mothers already burdened with economic and parenting stress.

The more balanced story, but one that poses complex and costly challenges for meaningful reform, is that of the fathers, often incarcerated or mired in drug abuse, absent in the economic and emotional lives of their families.

Sue Matorin
New York, Aug. 22, 2006
The writer is an adjunct associate professor at the Columbia School of Social Work.


Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:37 AM, Aug 23, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Employment | Letter To The Editor of the Week | Welfare
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