Home > The 1996 Reforms and TANF > Welfare Reform in the 1990’s: A Mother’s Unanswered Questions

Welfare Reform in the 1990’s: A Mother’s Unanswered Questions

The year is 1996, and welfare reform changes are being made. My name is Yvette Tillman. I just turned twenty one several days ago, a birthday I celebrated with my mother, Maya, my boyfriend Jamal, and our two year old daughter Nia. Jamal and I have been dating since we were freshmen in high school, and while having a child at such a young age is a test to any relationship, I think it has only brought us closer. We are considering getting married soon so that we can provide Nia with a more stable family dynamic, especially since “research suggests that children are – on average – better off, both economically and psychologically, in stable two-parents families” (Sawhill, 17). With the recent changes to Maryland’s welfare policies, this might also mean that we would be eligible for more welfare funding. After I graduated from high school I tried to get a part time job, but shortly after I got pregnant with Nia, which limited my ability to work. I’m curious to see how the recent establishment of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families will affect me and my family, and how it will be different from AFDC. It seems like Bill Clinton has a much more democratic view of welfare and doesn’t support the conservative attitude that women like me are having children just to receive welfare payments.

Because these reforms are fairly recent, I do have some questions about how I will be affected by them. In the past, some have considered AFDC to be an entitlement to the poor, while it seems like TANF will be more of a privilege with established capped limits. I’ve even heard that some states are refusing to provide aid to mothers who cannot identify the father of their child. Conservatives are saying that a single mother and a child are not considered a family, and that condoning this family structure threatens the definition of what a family should be. Personally, I think it’s incredibly unfair to limit mothers who need aid just because the child’s father is not in the picture. I’ve also heard that the new TANF policy will establish a work requirement in order to continue receiving aid. I’m interested, especially because education will now also count towards the work requirement, which will hopefully encourage teen mothers to attend school regularly and still be able to provide for their kids. I’m still unclear on what Maryland’s policies will be, since they differ by state. What will be my work requirement? What if I can’t fulfill it? Will I stop receiving aid from the state? I am definitely considering the work training hours. While it might be hard right now, this would be a great option for me once Nia gets older, starts going to school, and doesn’t need my constant care.

Recent statistics are looking very positive for mothers like me. According to recent reports, employment of single mothers is on the rise, and black child poverty is steadily declining. However, it seems that the reforms are not a win-win for everyone. While many are leaving the welfare rolls, it is arguable whether they end up better or worse off in the long run. Once someone stops receiving welfare, there is no follow-up system in place to see how the person is faring financially, and if they are really no longer in need of assistance. The Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicaid childcare have been a great help to working families in reducing their welfare dependency. The work oriented welfare reforms are also encouraging people to go out and look for work, becoming more involved in the community and making themselves active citizens. The case load decline has also allowed each state to give more financial aid to the families remaining on welfare, in the last several years increasing the amount from $3,500 to $8,000 (Sawhill).

To me, it’s a bit unclear why the number of people on welfare has decreased so dramatically. My friend Racquel no longer needs to be on welfare because both she and her husband have recently found jobs and are now able to support themselves and their son. They were encouraged to get married by Racquel’s mother, who had to raise Racquel all by herself. Since she is aware of the hardships of being a single mother, she wanted her daughter to avoid the same challenges. There has also been a decline in food stamp participation by eligible families, as “food stamps were designed primarily for non-working families, and emphasize minimizing payment errors that are much more common among working than among non-working families” (Sawhill, 13). Since more people are becoming employed, I guess there isn’t as much need for food stamps. What worries me about potentially leaving welfare is that “less than half of those leaving welfare for jobs get help with child care expenses” (Sawhill, 13). I’m hesitant to go off welfare because I’m not sure if we would be able to manage with Nia without the additional help. But with the numbers of working mothers rising, I’m beginning to wonder if I should start looking for a job. Should I focus on work or education? I think I need more time to observe the potential effects of the TANF reforms before I make any changes and decisions, especially ones that would impact Nia.

All I know is that I want to provide my child with “a more structured home environment, more work-oriented values, and greater exposure…to good quality out-of-home care or education” (Sawhill, 17). Hopefully the reforms will create more opportunity for this in Baltimore, improving the potential for Nia’s future.

Yvette Tillman, single mother.

Baltimore, 1996.

  1. The Mayor
    May 1, 2012 at 2:35 am

    Ms. Tillman, I know that you concerned about your financial situation and I want to ensure that you are not alone in this struggle. During my time as the Mayor of Baltimore, I have made it my goal to increase the standard of living for all Baltimoreans through more than just urban redevelopment. There are two programs that I believe will be of interest to you. The first is the literacy campaign that I launched in 1994. My literacy program combines two agencies that provide adults and teens with educational opportunities and through this program you and your boyfriend can learn skills that can help you find employment in a service driven economy. The second is the Bridges to Work program that provides Baltimore residents with free bus passes. This program will allow you to ride public transportation free of charge to your new place of work. Ms. Tillman, I know that you are worried about your future, Jamal’s future, Maya’s future, and Nia’s future, but, I want you to know that there are people all over Baltimore who are willing to help you and your family.

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