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.

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Filling in Recession-Related Holes

The Obama administration in its 2011 budget has kept program characteristics and funding levels essentially unchanged at about $17 billion. It has proposed extending an emergency fund with an additional $2.5 billion and replenishing a five-year contingency fund with $1.8 billion to fill holes left by the recession.

In her statement to the subcommittee, Nazario said the administration would take on a "more comprehensive examination" of TANF this year "in preparation for a full reauthorization of welfare reform," though she declined to give a timeline.

Casey praised the administration for continuing the emergency fund, which was started with $5 billion from stimulus money last year and expires in September. The fund does three things: subsidizes jobs, gives additional assistance to states that have increased their caseloads and provides emergency benefits for expenses such as utility bills. Supporters of the emergency fund are trying to insert it into the jobs bill that's working its way through the House, fearing that the subsidized jobs will be cut in the coming months if the fund is not continued.

The administration's budget also calls for a new $500 million Father, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, which shifts a Bush-era marriage promotion initiative into a testing ground for programs that would help welfare parents build more sustainable careers.

"It's significant and important," Casey said about the additional money. "I think of it as a down payment on what needs to get done."

Removal of Education and Training Caps

Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore, a Democrat and former welfare recipient, seconded Casey's endorsement of the emergency fund. But during her testimony to the subcommittee she added that Congress should remove caps on education and training, which are limited to one year. She noted research showing heads of households who lack a college degree are 13 times more likely to be poor than their more educated counterparts.

Members of Congress who advocate for an improved welfare system, such as Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott, D-Wash., did not rule out structural changes to TANF this year, though his staff declined to give any specifics.

Advocates for overhauling TANF point to a paper written by Elizabeth Lower-Basch of the Center for Law and Social Policy, a national anti-poverty nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., as their agenda.

Lower-Basch recommends allowing welfare recipients to integrate more education and training into required work, replacing a system of federal incentives to states for lowering caseloads with one that rewards states for lifting families out of poverty and changing program requirements so that more poor families can qualify for TANF and receive increased benefits.

Melissa Boteach, a poverty researcher at the Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress, is working with the congressional committee in charge of reauthorizing TANF.

She said chances are "not strong" that Congress will address major structural deficiencies this year. But she's hopeful that the emergency fund and the new innovation fund focused on career training will strengthen the overall TANF program this year, while laying the groundwork for more comprehensive reform next year.

Julia Marsh is a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent. In addition to reporting for Women's eNews, she covers domestic and foreign affairs for a Japanese newspaper.

For more information:

CLASP Policy Paper on TANF:

Subcommittee hearing testimonies:

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Reform Should Mean Entitlement to Work, Welfare

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