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

Part: 2

Scholarships Help Work Around Welfare Limits

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Patsy Takemoto Mink Fellowship each year extends grants of $2,000 to assist low-income women to achieve an educational objective. Brittney Ferara used the money to rent an apartment, where she now has a safe, quiet place to study.

Brittney Ferara and her daughter Zora(WOMENSENEWS)--Brittney Ferara was one of five recipients to win an annual $2,000 scholarship last year to help low-income women achieve an educational objective.

It's not a lot of money, but it meant a lot to Ferara.

She used it to pay the first month's rent and security deposit on a two-bedroom apartment.

"I now have a place to study and my daughter has her own room," said Ferara, who is earning her associates degree in social and human services from Seattle Central Community College.

Ferara's award came from the Patsy Takemoto Mink Fellowship, named for the woman who represented her native Hawaii in the U.S. Congress from 1965 to 1977 and then again in 1992 to 2002, the year she died.

Widely known as the driving force behind Title IX--which requires funding parity for the sexes in educational institutions that receive public funding--Mink also actively worked on welfare policy.

In her vision, welfare should go beyond helping low-income mothers care for their children. It should also open opportunities to education at all levels, provide child care and assistance in overcoming personal barriers to employment.

In line with that, the former version of welfare--Aid to Families with Dependent Children--featured training and education for recipients and permitted the completion of four-year college degrees.

In 1996, however, in what Mink would call "welfare's end," the program was overhauled as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF.

Glimpse of New Hardships

Ferara's story offers a glimpse of how much tougher the 1996 overhaul made life for someone in her position.

In a personal essay to apply for the award, she described growing up with a negligent mother and an alcoholic father. For a while she was able to escape by living with grandparents in Montana. While there she developed a drug habit. She got hooked on methamphetamine.

She returned to her mother's home to discover her father gone and in his place a new live-in man, who would eventually become physically and sexually abusive. By the time she was 14 she left for good, preferring to take her chances in the streets of Seattle in 2004.

Even though by 16 she had managed to gain entry into college, Shoreline Community College in Seattle, worked three jobs and took up photography, she was only going through the motions. Living with sexual assault, homeless and with no one to turn to--she said her mother did not believe her when she revealed that her companion had raped her--she grew suicidal.

"In the end I knew I could not let myself become a victim of what happened to me. I had to be a survivor," said Ferara.

By 2006 she and her male partner got clean together and Ferara was pregnant. "We decided to keep the baby even though everyone told us it was a mistake," Ferara said.

Sleeping in Mall Bathrooms

Ferara's partner went to work in Alaska during the last five months of her pregnancy so they could afford a place to live when the baby arrived. While he was gone, she continued to work but was still homeless.

"I slept in mall bathrooms, under bridges, squats," she said, referring to abandoned houses. "Sometimes I would get lucky and be able to sleep at a friend's house."

A year after the baby arrived, Ferara decided to go back to school, re-enrolling at Shoreline Community College.

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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