By Diana Spatz
Monday, October 4, 2010
Last week Congress let federal funding expire, potentially costing more than 200,000 parents and young people their jobs. In contrast to the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, the $1 billion program that created these jobs was actually working.
Some of the new hires include Ashley Smith, a teen mother from Oakland, Calif., who now works for LIFETIME. She praised the chance "to work hard and earn a decent paycheck that allows me to buy my son diapers and formula," and cried when she received her first paycheck ever.
Another new hire is Rebeca Walker-Marquez, who says the program gave her "the opportunity to have a meaningful job and to look forward to the day when my son and I will have a place to live and fix our car and get our old life back."
In turn, Smith and Walker-Marquez, along with eight other parents LIFETIME hired through the emergency jobs program, have helped scores of other parents apply for food stamps and gain job training, while they look for work and pray for better days.
And until better days arrive, the extension of this fund was that much more crucial, as the Great Recession--news of its technical demise notwithstanding--enters its fourth year.
When Congress passed the TANF welfare overhaul in 1996, it was in the context of a strong economy and record rates of job growth.
Now welfare rolls are on the rise for the first time since that year.
The unemployment rate for single mothers--who constitute over 90 percent of parents who receive welfare--has more than doubled since the Great Recession officially began in 2007, reaching its highest level in 25 years.
An astounding 1-in-8 Americans now receive food stamps, a record enrollment for the program.
And recent data from the Census Bureau found that the poverty rate has risen for the third consecutive year, reaching its highest level in 15 years. The gap between rich and poor is now the largest on record. And 1-in-5 American children now live in poverty, with poverty rates in rural areas of our country topping 72 percent for families headed by Latina single mothers and 63 percent for those headed by black single mothers.
Without the emergency jobs program, prospects for unemployed parents will be increasingly grim.
Days are numbered for literally millions of Americans who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, as Republicans block any hope of an extension before the November elections. Consequently, many more families will be added to the welfare rolls, where the outlook will be even worse. In lieu of jobs with pay and dignity, parents who receive welfare are being required to "work first," even though jobs don't exist, and to perform up to 40 hours a week of unpaid "workfare" assignments, in exchange for welfare benefits that in some states are as low as $68 a month.
By contrast, the emergency fund has enabled hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans to bring home a paycheck, instead of a welfare or unemployment check.
The failure of Congress to extend this fund has even conservative economists, including Arizona Sen. John McCain's economic advisor, asking "how could any sensible person oppose such a move?"
Sensibility--and common sense--are apparently in short supply in our nation's Congress.
Would you like to Comment but not sure how? Visit our help page at http://www.womensenews.org/help-making-comments-womens-enews-stories.
Would you like to Send Along a Link of This Story?
Diana Spatz fought and won the right to pursue her college degree as a single mother receiving public assistance. Today she is director of LIFETIME in Oakland, Calif., which works to empower low-income parents to earn college degrees and graduate off welfare into career-path jobs.
GOP Blocks Reauthorization Of 'Important Social Safety Net Program:
About the Emergency Contingency Fund:
Workers News on Emergency Fund Extension:
LIFETIME (Low-income Families Empowerment through Higher Education:
By Anna Limontas-Salisbury
By Susan Feiner
By WeNews staff