Author Archive

The War on the War on Poverty

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m sad to report that welfare devolution has continued under the Clinton administration with the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). This act, which instituted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 1997, has implemented much more stringent requirements for welfare assistance and has therefore drastically cut the welfare rolls. The problem is that we have not seen an equivalent decrease in poverty rates. The problem is that when Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it” his goal was to simply cut people from the rolls without realizing that these people “don’t just disappear” (Sommerfeld, Reisch 309).

In fact, all of the people being cut from federal welfare have turned to nonprofits for help. Average demand for nonprofit services has increased by 26% since the passage of PRWORA, putting a huge stress on nonprofits (Sommerfeld, Reisch 303). This increased demand for nonprofit services is a result of the new time limits and work requirements embedded in welfare policy, which have drastically reduced the number of people that can qualify for federal assistance. For example, nobody can receive TANF funds for more than 60 months during their lifetime (Suppan 13). Furthermore, the requirements increase over time. In 1997, 20% of single mothers had to work at least 20 hours per week in order to qualify for welfare, by 2002 that number will jump to 50% of single mothers required to work at least 30 hours per week (Suppan 13).

The emphasis on work requirements may seem like a positive attribute of the new welfare legislation, and only 20 hours a week may seem very reasonable, but this policy does not take into account the fact that the state no longer provides childcare or transportation services, which were mandated by previous work requirements in welfare legislation (Suppan 13). Without these services it is nearly impossible for welfare recipients to hold a steady job. In addition, most welfare recipients do not have the skills to obtain anything other than “go nowhere jobs” with which they are “unable to keep up with the cost of living” (Sommerfeld, Reisch 305). Also, under the PRWORA’s “workfare” programs, which seek to provide employment for welfare recipients, Baltimore’s 209 public school custodial trainees make as little as $1.50 an hour (Suppan 22).Image

Overall, the “unspoken assumption of the new model is that the global economy will create jobs at wage and benefits levels to empower recipients of the Welfare Reform Act programs to become economically self-sufficient”, but this clearly has not been the result (Suppan 14). First of all, in order to provide employment for all of the people displaced by the cuts to welfare, job creation would have to quadruple (Suppan 14). Second of all, even if the opportunities were out there, welfare recipients do not have the resources to access them.

As a result of this dilemma, welfare recipients and former welfare recipients have turned to nonprofits for assistance. Through this “all our fears were realized; there is an increased demand for services with no corresponding increase in funding” (Sommerfeld, Reisch 312). Nonprofits are currently overwhelmed with the volume of demand. The number of seniors, dual parent families, single parents and grandparents who have formal or informal custody of their grandchildren has drastically increased since PRWORA (Sommerfeld, Reisch 305). In addition, the duration of people’s use of these services has increased. Nonprofits are doing their best to meet these new demands, but staffs are burnt out by the higher number of caseloads, extra and nontraditional hours and lack of sufficient funding (Sommerfeld, Reisch 306).

All of this would be doable if it was done in order to meet the goals of the nonprofit, but PRWORA has pushed nonprofits to restructure in accordance with its legislation. In particular, the emphasis on work requirements has forced nonprofits to focus on work-oriented programs instead of their original goals. Also, there is a newfound emphasis on numerical outcomes, data and evaluation measures rather than actual results for recipients. One of my colleagues has noted that “it has gotten to the point where this is not a social service agency any more. [It] more closely resembles a business” (Sommerfeld, Reisch 308). In regards to this, President Clinton should realize that if he wants to run the government like a business he has to be wary of focusing too much on quarterly earnings such as welfare cuts for risk of sacrificing the long term growth of the country and its citizens.


Sommerfeld, David, and Michael Reisch. “Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Welfare Reform in the United States on NGOs.” Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 14.3 (2003): 299-320. Print.

Suppan, Steve. Eye on America: Social Watch, 1997–2004. Publication. Minneapolis: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2005. Print.

Photo Source:

Stevens, Mick. “We Used to Feel Your Pain, but That’s No Longer Our Policy.” Cartoon. New York: New Yorker, 1995.


New Federalism, New Problems

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

William Steig

While it’s true that the Great Society programs had many flaws, President Reagan’s New Federalism initiatives have done even more harm for nonprofit organizations. As a member of a nonprofit group I was initially very excited to hear about Reagan’s plan. New Federalism promised to return power to the state and local governments, cutting back on the debilitating bureaucratic constraints imposed by the Great Society and allowing for more flexibility and creativity on the ground level.

The reality of New Federalism, however, was very different. Reagan returned power to state and local governments not to increase their creative control or flexibility, but to pass off “administrative, financial and policy-setting responsibility [to] lower levels of government” (Palmer 15). This was a way to cut the size and costs of the federal government at the expense of state and local governments. For instance, federal aid packages that funded social welfare programs and community development organizations were singled out for the sharpest budget cuts. In fact in FY1982, Congress consolidated 77 categorical programs into 9 block grants and from FY 1981-FY 1985 reduced the income available to nonprofits by $35 billion (Palmer 12). These kinds of policies have severely prohibited nonprofits, such as my own, from carrying out our visions. We might have more control over how to spend our money, but this means nothing if we have no money to spend in the first place. As a result of these cuts, the individual recipients of our services and our communities as a whole are suffering. After all, nonprofit organizations play a substantial role in communities. In 1980, nonprofits in the U.S. spent $70 billion on health care, $25.2 billion on education/research and $13.2 billion on social services (Anheier, Seibel 221). Cutting funding for nonprofit groups has had negative effects on individuals, communities and the country as a whole.

To replace the significant cuts in federal funding for nonprofits, the Reagan administration has encouraged nonprofits to increase the number of private contributions they receive. But in order to hold constant the real value of nonprofits, charitable donations between 1983-1985 would have to increase 40% annually. In addition, it doesn’t help that the Reagan administration has changed the federal tax policy to raise the after-tax costs of private donations (Palmer 13). To replace federal funding Reagan is pushing nonprofits into a purely free market system, however these institutions were created to serve not to compete. Today, my organization is forced to spend valuable time fundraising and networking instead of implementing our programs and making a positive difference in our communities.

Not only did the Reagan administration cut funding for nonprofits, but he directly cut many social welfare programs. For example, he reduced extended unemployment benefits, increased patient cost sharing in Medicare and tightened the income eligibility restrictions in school lunch programs (Palmer 17). Overall, fewer people are eligible for programs and those that are still eligible receive fewer benefits. Also, these cuts have primarily affected the low-income families that have the greatest need for such programs.

Reagan’s policies may have advocated for more creativity and flexibility on the state and local levels, but the federal government continues to assert power over nonprofits by restricting their resources. The reality is that the government provides a huge proportion of the funding needed to operate nonprofits. If this funding is not reestablished, nonprofits will be unable to deliver and distribute the services that the government is responsible for providing and that the public desperately needs (Anheier, Seibel 229).

Camilla Seiler, Community Activist

April 17th, 1985


Anheier, Helmut K., and Wolfgang Seibel. The Third Sector: Comparative Studies of Nonprofit Organizations. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1990. Print.

Palmer, John Logan, and Isabel V. Sawhill. The Reagan Experiment. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 1982. Print.

Changing Domestic Priorities Project Ser.

Smith, Steven Rathgeb, and Michael Lipsky. Nonprofits for Hire: The Welfare State in the Age of Contracting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.


Steig, William. “Woman writing letter”. September 12, 1988. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.

Community Inact…

April 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Community Inaction Agencies 

President Johnson

As a community activist for many years, I wholeheartedly support the mission of giving the poor the chance to participate in social action. In fact, in order to create effective anti-poverty programs it is absolutely essential for the poor to have a major role in shaping the policies that will affect both their own lives and their communities as a whole.

My ideology is in line not only with theorists of the 1960s, but also President Johnson’s Great Society program and the abundance of community action groups that have sprung up as a result of this legislation. The War on Poverty, in particular, led to the passage of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which called for the creation of Community Action Agencies (CAA). The CAA’s, which were public or private non-profits, were seen as a “device that would draw federal, state and local programs together and meld them into an integrated assault upon the problems of poverty” (Wolman 34). This new legislation led to a huge upsurge in community action groups. In fact, approximately one-fourth of all organizations represented in Washington in 1980 were created in the fifteen-year period from 1960 to 1975 with the majority being citizens’ and social welfare groups (Conlan 15).

With hundreds of community action groups in every city, I had an overwhelming number of possibilities as I searched for a job in 1965. I decided to join the United Planning Organization (UPO), a Washington, DC based community action agency, because of their “ideology of community participation–the democratic participation of the poor in an effort to end poverty in their community” (Wolman 36). I was inspired by the UPO’s cooperation with the Metropolitan Citizen’s Advisory Commission (MCAC), which represented the city’s poor on the UPO’s advisory board.

In addition, I was passionate about UPO’s collaboration with the Ford Foundation’s Grey Area Projects (Wolman 35). The grey areas represent the zones in cities that lie between downtown and the suburbs, which are most often home to African American migrants from the South (Marris, Rein 15). The grey areas are the parts of cities most prone to racial discrimination and decay and therefore require the greatest amount of attention. The Ford Foundation’s philosophy called for effective community action, participation of all groups involved and indigenous leadership in order for a project to be successful (Rubin 19). The UPO, through the Ford Foundation, was able to construct schools in relation to urban renewal communities with a curriculum that would “stress reading, the neighborhood, preparation for a career, and ethnic cultures” (Marris, Rein 16).

In the beginning, I was extremely excited about the work I was doing with UPO. I soon began to realize, however, that the UPO and community action agencies in general were severely constrained in their ability to create change. In fact, the UPO’s ideology of community participation had come about following the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act merely as a way to gain funding for their projects. The UPO originally advocated for planning and metropolitan coordination rather than community action, however they changed their tune in order to meet the “maximum feasible participation” requirements laid out by the government (Wolman 35). The UPO had always sought to improve the DC community, but they had to completely change their goals in order to continue to receive federal funding. The reality is that “no bureau (read organization) can survive unless it is continually able to demonstrate that its services are worthwhile to some group with influence over sufficient resources to keep it alive” (Wolman 33).

"It says here Congress is anxious to get out of town"

Furthermore, the UPO had to balance an array of opinions, organizations and actors and was therefore pulled in all different directions. For example, the UPO had to deal with funders, competitors that performed the same functions as the UPO, competitors that fought for the same resources as the UPO, clients and sufferers, allies, opponents and public opinions (Wolman 34). The truth is that “the proposals that are funded are those that are consistent with the desires of the funding agencies” and therefore “the greatest role in initiation belongs to the federal government. Although [UPO] talks an awful lot about flexibility, there really is not much at the local level” (Wolman 37).

Overall, the UPO and the majority of other community action agencies grappled with these constraints. While the Economic Opportunity Act, the Ford Foundation model and the UPO began their projects with a desire to better the cities of America, the limitations of bureaucracy greatly hindered them. Although I am still an ardent believer in the effectiveness of community action, I am disillusioned by the legislation and policies surrounding these projects. I can only hope that in the future more power and flexibility is returned to the community action agencies themselves so that they can act as self-governing institutions rather than dependents of the government.

Camilla Seiler, Community Activist

April 8th, 1968


Conlan, Timothy. From New Federalism to Devolution: Twenty-Five Years of Intergovernmental Reform. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1998. JHU Sheridan Libraries. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <;.

Marris, Peter, and Martin Rein. Dilemmas of Social Reform; Poverty and Community Action in the United States. 2nd ed. Chicago: Aldine Pub., 1973. Google. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <;.

Rubin, Lillian B. “Maximum Feasible Participation: The Origins, Implications, and Present Status.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 385 (1969): 14-29. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. < .>.

Wolman, Harold. “Organization Theory and Community Action Agencies.” Public Administration Review 32.1 (1972): 33-42. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. < .>.


Photo 1: U.S. Department of State. “Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society”. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.

Photo 2: Block, Herb. “It says here Congress is anxious to get out of town”. October 12, 1966. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.