Marion Wright Edelman

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Thousands of single mothers are scheduled to lose an array of federal assistance this winter and leading proponents say legislation moving through Congress could reduce the harm to families by bolstering child-care programs and improving job training.

One of the leading advocates for change in the nation’s approach to families, Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Tuesday urged representatives of 75 New York Latino advocacy groups to support a proposed federal legislation: Act to Leave No Child Behind.

“Childcare, healthcare, transportation, education and training–we try to address all of these. And then we try to address wages because mothers will have better choices,” Edelman said. The Children’s Defense Fund is a private, nonprofit organization that advocates for children and is lobbying legislators to approve the legislation.

The bill was introduced last May by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) in response to the upcoming expiration of changes in two key programs that assist single parents. More than half of parents with children receiving federal aid have a child who is not yet in school and all parents receiving temporary assistance have a child under age 18.

The name of the legislation, which began as one bill but has since been broken down into pieces and incorporated into other proposed laws, suggests a primary focus on children. But because mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be single parents and are overwhelmingly the primary caregivers of children, passage of the act would greatly impact women.

This Is a Bill for Women

“Women have most of the responsibility for raising children. And so, this is a bill for women especially,” Edelman said

“This is the bill that says ‘let us support families,’ and, since women and so many single parents are the ones who have to be the breadwinners and child nurturers, this would gain working-class people the support they need,” Edelman added in an interview shortly after she addressed the New York Latino leadership.

Edelman said the bill would steer current welfare recipients toward jobs that pay a living wage–and to self-sufficiency. The bill also would improve access to education and job-skills training, as well as to childcare and affordable housing. The legislation also would address the lack of transportation, missing or inadequate child support and the need for substance abuse treatment.

The American Psychological Association reports that 10 percent to 20 percent of women will experience depression at some point in their lives and women receiving federal assistance are at greater risk. The bill does not address the mental health of single parents, except for substance abuse. Domestic abuse can affect a woman’s mental health, but the legislation confronts domestic violence only insofar as the dangers it poses to children, with no provision to inform women about available services.

Proposed Bill Could Have Enormous Impact

With more than 13 percent of women living in poverty, according to the most recent available U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the legislation “would definitely have enormous impact on working women and their families,” said Jodi Grant, director of Working Families Programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The proposed legislation removes the current 12-month limit on education and vocational training. It also calls for an extension of the 60-month lifetime limit for receiving federal income assistance. Workers earning low wages could still receive some income assistance and the months in which they get such benefits would not count towards the 60-month limit. The federal minimum wage would increase to $6.65 per hour from $5.15.

The Children’s Defense Fund reports that single mothers most often cite lack of childcare as their reason for not working outside the home. The proposed legislation increases the number of Early Head Start child-development programs from 10 percent to 40 percent, and also mandates additional funding for the Access to Jobs program, designed to improve access to transportation to and from work and childcare facilities.

As part of a broader effort to fully fund childcare, the Child Care and Development Block Grant would provide states the funds to assist low-income families with childcare expenses and make all children eligible for childcare by 2011.

The proposed legislation addresses the lack of affordable housing. Under the current voucher program, the federal government subsidizes up to two-thirds of the rent for those who are fortunate enough to be part of a program called Section Eight. However, waiting lists run years long and those who become eligible often find it difficult to find landlords who agree to the terms of the program. The bill would provide a million new vouchers for affordable housing during the next 10 years and allot any surplus generated by other federal housing programs to a fund for new construction of affordable rental housing. Grants also would be given to states to develop and preserve low-income housing.

Edelman said the scarcity of affordable housing in the cities has resulted in rents rising out of reach for many low-income families.

“Even when they have two minimum-wage jobs, that does not allow them to buy affordable apartments in most cities,” Edelman said.

Carol Lee is a student in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of New York University.

For more information:

Children’s Defense Fund:

National Partnership for Women & Families:

No Child Left Behind Act homepage: