Women in Poverty - Tales from the Recession's Front Lines

Part: 1

At Welfare Hearings, Calls to Help Single Mothers

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Women's advocates are pressing a welfare overhaul agenda in reauthorization subcommittee meetings. President Obama is not expected to make major changes or raise basic funding levels, but emergency and contingency funds are being set aside.

Carmen Nazario overseas the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or welfare program.WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--For the first time since federal welfare law was overhauled in 1996, the official in charge of overseeing the program told a congressional hearing last week that the decline in the number of welfare cases is problematic.

"Caseload decline is positive if it is accompanied by decline in poverty and increases in employment," Carmen Nazario, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Service, told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support on March 11.

If that decline is accompanied by a rise in child poverty and a drop in the employment rate of single mothers, however, then it is not a mark of success, she said.

The subcommittee hearing was one of many leading up to the reauthorization vote on the welfare program, a block grant to states formally called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which expires in September. The program, which was last reauthorized in 2005, supports low-income households headed by single parents.

When TANF was enacted, President Clinton and the Republican leadership presented the significant changes as a way to put a single parent on a path out of welfare and into financial independence through the imposition of work requirements and time limits for assistance--as well as funding limits to the states. Under the previous program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, single parents were entitled to aid, channeled through the states, although it too included work requirements and other strictures. The 1996 law included a host of rules and sanctions that permitted states to more easily end a family's assistance and capped the amount each state could receive.

Concern When Clock Runs Out

Under TANF, the maximum time a parent could receive federal subsidies was for five years, although many states adopted shorter time limits. Anti-poverty advocates have long worried about what happens to families when the "clock" runs out, especially in a recession as deep as the current one.

"I think TANF is a lagging indicator of a recession," Russell Sykes, chairman of the National Association of State TANF Administrators, told the subcommittee. He predicted that the caseload would grow over the next two years. "We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," he said.

The government defines poverty as a family of four earning $22,050 a year. The child poverty rate fell from 22.7 percent to 16.2 percent during the first few years following the 1996 changes in the welfare law. In 2008, the child poverty rate rose to 19 percent, while the TANF program--the primary federal safety net for single mothers and their children--hit an all-time low of 1.7 million cases. About 90 percent of the TANF heads of households are single mothers.

The program caseload has increased slightly to 1.8 million since last September, and many predict that the recession will create further demand for welfare assistance.

Tim Casey, a senior attorney with Legal Momentum, a women's advocacy group based in New York, told Women's eNews that the two biggest fixes needed for TANF include increased access to the safety net program, which currently reaches only 27 percent of poor children, by changing eligibility rules and relaxing sanctions that force people out of the program for minor infractions. The second fix is higher federal funding, which has flat-lined over the past decade, thereby decreasing in value, due to inflation. For the current cases, cash benefits are insufficient in many states, most glaringly in Mississippi, where a family of three receives only $170 a month.

Advocates such as Casey say the TANF program is broken and requires immediate repair to help needy families who've been hit hard by the recession.

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It's glad to know that there are grants for single mothers , this will help them in their financial aspect in life. Taking care of their child is a tough especially as the child is growing in their teenage years.

Another law that would give women special treatment. are we really equal.


Series Overview

Poverty - Tales from the Recession's Front Lines

Part: 12

Welfare Recipients Enjoy Bright Spots of Support

Part: 11

Health Reform Reality Kicks In: Costs Still High

Part: 10

Welfare Job Rules Hit Women With Disabilities

Part: 9

Federal Job Funding Opens Doors for Single Mothers

Part: 8

Diapers Not Eligible for Food Stamps? Crazy!

Part: 7

U.S. Law Puts Credit Card Debt Before Single Moms

Part: 6

Need Welfare in Bronx? Come Back Tomorrow, Maybe

Part: 5

Hard Times Test Obama's Promise of More Medicaid

Part: 4

Marriage Loses Ground as Anti-Poverty Panacea

Part: 3

New Health Law Could Shield Women from Poverty

Part: 2

Scholarships Help Work Around Welfare Limits

Part: 1

At Welfare Hearings, Calls to Help Single Mothers