The welfare system in the United States began when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC) (Rector par.2), the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF) (Office par. 1). The highlights of TANF are that recipients are required to participate in work activities such as unsubsidized or subsidized employment, on-the-job training, work experience, and community service for so many hours a week in order to receive benefits and that a person can only receive federal aid for a total of five years in his or her adult lifetime (Office). The three goals of TANF were “(1) to reduce welfare dependence and increase employment; (2) to reduce child poverty; and (3) to reduce illegitimacy and strengthen marriage” (Rector par. 2). Sidonie Squire, the director of the Department of Health and Human Resources, says the number of families on welfare (caseloads) has decreased from 4.41 million families in August 1996 to 1.76 million families in September 2006. 1.6 million fewer children were living in poverty in 2005 than in 1996 (Squire), and the illegitimacy rate only rose one-fourth as fast from 1996 to 2003 as it did before welfare reform (Rector par.38). However, the welfare system hasn’t been effective.
Although the number of families on welfare has decreased significantly since PRWORA was passed, the economy deserves credit for the decrease. From August 1996 to June 2000 the number of families on welfare decreased from 4.41 million families (Squire) to 2.2 million families (Rector & Fagan par.26), a decrease of 2.31 million families in almost four years. Over the next six plus years though, the number only dropped .54 million, because “the national TANF decline has slowed appreciably during and after the last recession, which began in March 2001” (Rector par.19).
The economy also deserves credit for the decrease in child poverty. Overall child poverty fell from 20.8% in 1995 to 16.2% in 2000, but during the recession it rose 1.6% to a 2004 rate of 17.8% (Rector par.35).
The work requirements and five year time limit of TANF put battered women in a tough spot. Shelby Moore points out that they are forced to choose between the physical safety of both them and their children and the essentials that the abuser supplies (par. 3). Women who escape abusive relationships often don’t have much. They are often without transportation, a house, a bank account, and a job. If they can’t get assistance from family and friends and government assistance is not available, they are often forced to remain in, or return to, abusive relationships (Moore par.4). While there is the Family Violence Option (FVO) that exempts battered women who meet the criteria from work requirements and lifetime benefits (Moore par.5), the FVO is inadequate for four reasons. First of all, the number of domestic violence exemptions that can be granted isn’t clear. Second, the PRWORA funding system discourages the use of FVO exemptions. Third, the states are encouraged to compete with each other for bonus awards by moving recipients off welfare. Finally, PRWORA has a cap that permits states to only exempt up to twenty percent of their total caseloads from the five-year lifetime limit on benefits and from the work requirements due to “hardship” or domestic violence (Moore par.6).
The following chart by Rector and Fagan compares the poverty rates of single mothers with the poverty rates of married couples for both white and black families. The chart shows that for both white families and black families, the percent of single mothers living in poverty is almost five times higher than the percentage for married couples (Rector & Fagan par. 55).
So, the states should be focusing a lot of their...