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

April 29, 2012 1 comment

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.

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A Second Generation of Poverty, Under Funded and Marginalized

April 19, 2012 3 comments

A Second Generation of Poverty, Under Funded and Marginalized

The year is 1985, and I can feel a shift in the way the country is thinking about poverty. It’s been four tough years since the passing of my mother, Gina Tillman. I never expected it to be so hard without her – I guess I never even realized how much she helped me out. All I know is that I have definitely been struggling to make ends meet, and the recent government reforms in welfare and society programs have only made my day-to-day more complicated and harder to manage.

My name is Maya Tillman, and I am a thirty three year old mother of three. You may have had the chance to meet my mother, Gina, a while back when President Johnson was in the process of enacting the Great Society programs in order to help families like mine. She died a couple of years ago from a heart attack – it was sudden. I was not prepared to lose her – she was my support system, providing whatever little money she had to help me raise my kids. Watching her raise me and Johnnie, I always told myself that there was no way I was going to raise my kids without a father, and I was successful for a while. Charles and I had Yvette, our first daughter, together when I was twenty three. The twins, Kenny and Robbie followed just two years later. Although Charles and I never got married, things were going really well for some time. Charles was working part time, and I was bringing in enough from welfare aid to keep us in our small apartment. But two years ago, Charles took a turn for the worse. He got mixed up in drugs, and eventually started using himself. When I saw that this habit was becoming detrimental to our way of life, and especially the lives of my children, I told him to get out. He packed his bags, and I haven’t seen him ever since.

I’m not going to lie – these days we’re struggling. With the recent welfare reforms enacted by President Reagan, I’m seeing less and less income from my welfare checks. My brother Johnnie, the only relative I have inBaltimore, tries to help out as much as he can, but he has his own family to take care of, and I can’t continue relying on him for everything. As I said, I’m getting less and less money every month, and with my kids getting older, the expenses are only growing. This makes me want to ask a question – how much of an obligation does the American society have to take care of its own people?

Ever since President Reagan came to office, we have been hearing about changes to the existing welfare programs, including budget cuts and less intervention from the federal level. My neighbor Lucille Phillips, a mother of seven with whom I currently share our brick rowhouse in West Baltimore, had her first baby in the 1960’s right after quitting the seventh grade at age 14. Because of the recent cuts in welfare funding, Lucille has been looking for her first job at the age of 39. The other day, she told me, “It’s not so easy to get jobs, but I can read and write. I can do pretty good, and I’m not ashamed to ask questions. I’m looking for main or housekeeper work. That’s the best with my education” (McNulty). I think that with many of the welfare programs receiving less funding, competition for jobs will only increase, making it harder for people like Lucille and I to be employed. Another one of the women on my block, Denise Green, a single mother of 3 and the head of her household, doesn’t even have the chance to look for work because she has to stay home in order to look after her children. She is hesitant to leave them with strangers, and “the welfare won’t pay family to watch them” (McNulty). Furthermore, the amount of federal money available for helping people get training and find jobs has been cut significantly during the last four years, and while “Baltimore found summer work for 17,5000 young men and women…this summer we hope to [have] 4,000 working.” Chances seem slim that Lucille, Denise and I will be a part of those four thousand new employees.

It seems like giving the city more flexibility without giving it the financial resources necessary to help those on welfare makes no sense. In 1982, 15.2% of Americans were living below the poverty line, and this number has only been rising during the last several years, with 868,000 more dropping below the line in 1983. I recently heard that the Reagan administration is even considering changing the definition of poverty to include noncash aid given to the poor, “money handed out in food stamps and subsidized housing” (McNulty). If these numbers are to be included in the poverty definition, only 10% of Americans would be considered to be living below the line. It seems like the current mindset of the administration is that “if the poverty levels were lowered by as much as a third, then the government doesn’t need to do as much, and therefore it can afford to spend less on the poor” (McNulty). Just seems like an excuse to reduce welfare aid to me. Politicians keep saying “that people are unemployed because they are not trying hard enough, that the jobs are there if they want them” (McNulty). All I know is that AFDC payments have been reduced by 36% during the last decade, making it harder for me to support my children, especially with my mother and Charles.

I hear many saying that welfare benefits only encourage a lack of responsibility, and that helping the poor is counterproductive, as it creates dependency on the state. But how am I, a single mother of three, supposed to support my children without any family or a husband? This raises not only anger, but also a lot of questions on my part. Is the government against me? Why is funding being cut? Will it really encourage others to go out and look for work, even when there aren’t enough jobs available? Is there a more logical solution to the welfare question? I hope the government changes their policies soon. Without work and a support system of relatives, I really rely on the welfare payments to help me take care of my family and provide for my kids.

– Maya Tillman, single mother on welfare, 1985

Source:

Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1985. Timothy J. McNulty. New Approaches To Poverty Alter Conscience Of Nation.

<http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-03-17/news/8501150831_1_poverty-great-society-americans>. (April 18, 2012).

Baltimore and Welfare: A Single Mother’s Perspective

Baltimore and Welfare: A Single Mother’s Perspective

As a single mother of two, it has been a relief to hear about the welfare initiatives that are in the progress of being executed by the government. Let me tell you, it has not been easy living here in Baltimore, trying to raise my kids with very little family or aid from anyone else. Recently, there has been a lot of talk of the government finally doing something to improve the financial situation of people like myself. Although at times I’m not sure that any action will actually take place, it helps to know that at least there is hope for an improvement to my current living conditions.

My name is Gina Tillman, and I am a single mother, currently residing in Baltimore and surviving on welfare. I’m thirty years old, and I have a thirteen year old daughter, Maya, and a nine year old son, Johnnie. Neither of their fathers is currently present in our lives, which is a source of support I wish I had the chance to rely on to make motherhood a little easier. My house is located just west of Patterson Park and Northeast Market. It’s not much of an abode, but for now it will have to do. Occasionally, I get a little help from my mother, who lives down in South Carolina and works as a maid. It’s not much, but every little bit helps. Up to this point, I have been filled with a sense of helplessness, as I feel like a powerless member of this community. There is little I can do to change my current economic situation, as no one will hire someone like me – a single mother, unable to graduate from high school because of an unexpected pregnancy at age 17. I have never had a job because I’ve always had to be at home in order to take care of my children. Now that they are getting older, I have other worries occupying me – what if Maya gets pregnant? What if my youngest ends up being a member of a gang? There are too many factors working against my community in order for us to escape the poverty, violence, and overall debilitating mindset that surround my family and me. All I know is that outside intervention is needed for significant change to take place. I’m hoping that the government will do something soon to help us out.

What I’ve mostly been hearing about are the new Community Action Programs, a government initiative that is meant to use federal financial resources to fight the war on poverty through allocation of funds to local Community Action Agencies. This sounds promising – if only someone asked us what we needed, maybe officials would act accordingly in providing us with what we are currently lacking. Our president has called for an “unconditional war on poverty,” urging us, urban recipients on welfare, to participate in changing our own destiny (Orleck, 99). There are even rumors of a dynamic poor mother’s movement taking place in Los Angeles. Imagine, mothers asking for more rights and more funding in order to provide for their families! While some critics are berating the movement, others are claiming that this sort of disruption is “the only resource, short of violence, available to low income people seeking to influence public policy” (Orleck, 111). It will be interesting to see if such a movement will occur here, in Baltimore.

What I do know, is Baltimore officials have no been idle in trying to resolve our issues. In November of 1964, the city published a report called “A Plan for Action on the Problems of Baltimore’s Disadvantaged People.” The report, inspired by an analogy of the physical renewal of the city that led to the term “human renewal,” created a plan in which “the first stage would be the design of a comprehensive plan which would translate some rough ideas on what should be done in concrete programs in the fields of health, education, and welfare; then to weave them together into a fabric with a recognizable pattern” (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 1). The reports further stated that city officials would divide prioritized, high poverty areas into smaller sections in order to ensure personalized attention to the resident’s problems, and even talk to citizens directly in order to pin point what our perceptions of the existing problems are.

The Action Area, the part of the city with the highest poverty rates, includes about a quarter of Baltimore’s citizens, 48,000 of which are white, and 171,000 of which are non-white. Forty percent of these residents are living on $3,000 or less annually, in housing 45% of which is considered not sound for residents, described to be “deteriorating, dilapidated or sound but lacking some plumbing facilities” (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 19). Fifty percent of those living in the Action Area have less than eight years of education, resulting in 9,000 unemployed residents, ten percent of which are women (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 16). Thirteen out of 100 people are dependent on AFDC or other types of federal aid. Other problems faced by the residents of this area include crime (13 arrests for every 100 adults residing in the Action Area in 1964), drinking, inadequate recreational facilities and programs, lack of sanitation services, low police protection rates, high school dropout rates, and a general lack of concern and motivation on the part of the city’s residents (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 21). The problems of my community are vast, and need to be addressed in an efficient manner in order to keep them from getting worse. There is only so much that my community can take. We need an intervention from an outside source, and hopefully the government’s Community Action Programs will provide us with the necessary attention that will allow us to address our problems and finally let us be heard in regards to what we need.

Gina Tillman

Baltimore City resident and welfare recipient, 1965

Sources:

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: Alred A. Knopf, 1991.

Steering Committee for a Plan for Action. A Plan for Action on the Problems of Baltimore’s Disadvantaged People. Baltimore: Health and Welfare Council of the Baltimore Area, November, 1964.

Orleck, Annelise. Storming Caesar’s Palace. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005.