Women without a Safety Net

Moms Without a Net: Raising Children Alone in the Post-Welfare Era

This spring, a flurry of news reports announced that the federal welfare case loads had dropped once again. The news seems to have been met with cheers within Congress, the White House and the dominant media. The conventional wisdom quickly became: The federal government is saving money by writing fewer welfare checks and reduced poverty by getting tough and insisting welfare mothers work for their benefits and sanctioning them for any infraction.

That seemed to be only part of the story, and Women’s eNews decided to take a long, hard look at what happened to welfare since the 1996 law ended the federal government’s obligation to ensure that single parents had some income to care for their families.

The federal welfare law’s central purpose is to assist families that are headed by single-parents who do not receive adequate child support from the non-resident parent and do not earn enough income to care for their families. Ninety percent of those who fit this description are women, mothers usually, raising children without the financial help–for whatever reason–of their children’s fathers.

However, as one expert said recently, many of the changes in the 1996 welfare law were designed to compel women raising children alone “to get a job and get married.”

In light of women’s urgent need to have more information on how the current federal welfare system is working, Women’s eNews decided to do something truly revolutionary: We asked investigative reporter Jennifer Friedlin to dig in and understand welfare from a single mother’s point of view.

Dig in she did. Friedlin’s remarkable reporting revealed that since the passage of the 1996 welfare law, the number and percentage of women raising children alone and the percentage of these families living in poverty continue to rise. In fact, the law, Friedlin reports

  • Created new barriers for women to gain access to assistance;
  • Failed to fully fund the child-care and other services single mothers need in order to leave home for paid employment;
  • De-emphasized the importance of distributing child support to these families;
  • Virtually ignored special provisions for victims of domestic violence;
  • Put a cap on overall funding that is now squeezing state budgets.

Below, is this remarkable series along with a first-person account from Belva Elliott, whose husband abandoned her and their five children. She is not typical, in the sense that most single mothers seeking assistance have only one child. But what makes her story so compelling, as she describes the violence she lives through and the failure of social service agencies to assist her, is that her experiences seeking help as she struggled to care for her family alone may indeed be far from rare.

Women’s eNews wishes to give special thanks to Friedlin, the project’s photographer Amani Willett and Vickie Gomez, associate director the Voices of Women Organizing Project, Battered Women’s Resource Center, for their outstanding work in putting this project together.

The stories in the Welfare Series:

Welfare Series: Time for Congress to Act
Run Date: 09/14/04

Welfare Series: Belva Elliott, Mother of Five, Speaks:
Run Date: 09/02/04

Click here to view Amani Willett’s photos of Belva and her family.

Welfare Series: Block Grants Starve State Budgets
Run Date: 09/03/04

Welfare Series: Services for Abused Women Scarce
Run Date: 08/27/04

Welfare Series: Child Support Cash Kept by States
Run Date: 08/22/04

Welfare Series: Child Care Promises Fall Through
Run Date: 08/13/04

Welfare Series: Law Drops Moms in Deeper Poverty
Run Date: 08/06/04