By Brian Davis
Let me first clear up a few misconceptions about welfare. First, welfare reform has nothing to do with men since cash assistance ended for men years ago. It has nothing to do with able-bodied adults without children. It certainly does not solve the problem of people who cheat the system. It has nothing to do with free loaders, and it is not about self re-liance.
Then what exactly is the purpose of welfare reform? I contend that welfare reform was a quick method to reign in the federal and state budgets, and I can prove it. If welfare reform was about making people work for their benefit checks, then there should be a job that pays a livable wage available to those coming off the system.
This significant increase in the number of people entering the workforce would drive up wages, drive down profits and the stock market, and there would be general chaos in the financial systems. This would be absolutely unacceptable to the welfare reform crusaders.
So what we got was a budget cut that will actually drives down wages. It is an opportunity to have future assurance that the Federal budget does not spiral out of control.
There is no longer an entitlement to cash assistance and therefore each state has the opportunity to control the welfare caseload. When there is a downturn in the economy, the states will not have the opportunity to seek unlimited funds from the federal government to satisfy the end. This is the type of budgetary control that Republican administrations have dreamed of for fifty years. Only a Democrat, who grew up without a father, who paints himself as a man of compassion, but who would do anything to remain in power could have passed welfare reform.
We cry about the changes in the welfare system, and protest the unnecessary harm that it has imposed on our friend’s children. But what do we want? What would real welfare reform look like?
There are many obstacles that we have to overcome as a society that handicap any effort to reform welfare. The most critical is that a full time job does not pay a livable wage. How many families have dissolved because a man without any skills cannot find a job that pays enough to support one person let alone three people? We, as a society, have forgotten the concept that quality universal health care is a right that needs to be extended to every person no matter their ability to pay. Finally, we have a pathetic system of educating our children both in the classroom and at home. We now have an education system that is both separate and unequal with poor kids offered babysitting and rich kids receiving opportunities because welfare reform was going to happen no matter what the cost to our society, our task was to come up with a system that was based on the current reality, but did not harm the children. After all, the reason Aid to Dependent Children hunger and homelessness among our youngest citizens.
There was one national debate that needed to take place before we entered in the welfare reform waters, and that was, is our society going to punish or nurture families that only had one parent? While we may not like it, single parent households exist. It would have been a lot easier to just come right out and say, “Women without a spouse have no business being parents. They are doing harm to their children, and should be punished for life for the one night of indiscretion or the mistake that led to a child.
It would be a lot more honest to just outright condemn and criminalize this lifestyle. Instead we set up a covert attack on single mothers. Just think how refreshing it would be to hear the overt hatred from the authors of welfare reform. We would hear things like, “Any baby conceived out of wedlock will become the ward of the state.” We could remove children from the household to prevent child abuse, poor upbringing or the possibility of creating future welfare recipients. Then stick these kids in camps to be educated by the state to be further cheap labor making fat free chilidogs. Hell, we could then force women who conceive a child without a spouse to walk around with a big letter "A".
So we set up this huge bureaucracy that basically has the same outcome, but it just takes a lot longer. A slow painful three to five year bloodletting is not more civilized than a one day cut off from the system, and it does not attract the media attention.
We must set up a system that nurtures children and protects them from homelessness and hunger.
We should have nurses, social workers, teachers and others in the community visiting at-risk households to make sure that the children are progressing properly, Public sector jobs that pay a livable wage should be established for those who do want to enter the work force. Cash assistance should be increased to provide a higher level to support to mother’s who choose to stay home.
While a family makes a low wage they should be allowed to maintain benefits including child care, cash assistance, and Medicaid for a long as it takes to make their family self sufficient. There also needs to be a reevaluation of how much money it takes to raise a family. Finally, we need to assure that all families with children are engaged in the system, and no families have to live on the streets. The welfare system must be in the neighborhoods to protect families from hunger and homelessness. The welfare caseworker should be assigned to a neighborhood to get to know every family in that area.
At the end of the day, will our children be better prepared for self reliance? Will our children of the welfare reform generation be better citizens with more education and more independence? Will our kids be able to maintain our democracy or will we let more of our rights slip away? We never had these discussions when welfare reform was passed. We rushed forward with this plan to force people to work for their benefits, and we will lament the lack of forethought with regard to reforming the welfare system.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 29