Making Hay Off Welfare FEW ISSUES LEND themselves to demagoguery more than crime and welfare. We already have seen the manipulation of crime figures by George W. Bush and by other politicians from both political parties around the country. Now comes Bush with TV ads accusing Gov. Ann Richards of allowing welfare rolls in Texas to swell. Bush calls for narrowing eligibility for government aid and cutting off recipients after two years. Bush proclaims in his ads that state welfare spending increased 142 percent during Richards’ first term in office. He neglects to say that his own father presided over the enactment of federal laws that broadened Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and children and caused most of that increase. Bush Junior does not worry that Texas is still one of the stingiest states in the union when it comes to providing for its poor. The maximum monthly welfare grant for the typical family of three in Texas is $188. Only Mississippi and Alabama pay less. Bush says the state is spending $17 billion on “welfare” every two years. He glosses over the fact that this amount includes aid to the elderly and disabled. State spending in the current biennium for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the main welfare program, is $416.5 million, or about 2.5 percent of Bush’s total. In his heyday, Ronald Reagan convinced the middle class that welfare recipients drove up to grocery stores in Cadillacs, pulled out their food stamps to buy oranges and then used the change to go next door and buy vodka to make screwdrivers. Phil Gramm for years has called for the poor to be thrown out of the wagon that is pulled by self-respecting people who work for a living. So it is politically acceptable and indeed advantageous to whip the welfare mother and George W. Bush is willing to lay on the leather. He would limit most poor women to no more than two years on welfare and never mind that half already spend less than two years on AFDC. He would refuse to pay women more money for having additional children while receiving benefits, even if that would leave less money to feed, clothe and house those babies. He would require unwed teens to live with their parents or guardians in exchange for their monthly checks, even if parental abuse may have figured among the reasons the woman left home. Richards has proposed to strengthen child-support collections and increasing penalties for those who do not pay. She has put a priority on the creation of well-pay ing jobs that will help welfare recipients become independent, pointing to a San Antonio program that gets businesses to create jobs and then trains welfare recipients for those positions. Even that moderateapproach does not impress Teresa Funiciello, a former welfare mother from New York who experienced firsthand the indifference and sometimes outright hostility of the welfare bureaucracy toward its subjects. In her 1993 book, Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System to End Poverty in America \(Atlantic Monthly Press, recently issued in pamust be radically recreated to spend more money directly on the needy recipients . rather than on government and charitable bureaucracies that normally soak up welfare appropriations.. Funiciello, now a welfare reform activist from the mothers point of view, participated in a recent conference organized by State Comptroller John Sharp to discuss public assistance. While welfare recipients are getting poorer and AFDC payments are worth only one third of what they bought in 1975, Funiciello said the welfare industry, which she calls “the fifth estate,” has “never been richer, it’s never been more powerful and it’s accountable to no one.” It accounts for 6.3 percent of the gross domestic product, she said, while AFDC accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget. “These people have a vested interest in poor people staying poor,” she said. Moving welfare mothers into jobs to make them self-sufficient sounds good, but it ignores the realities of poverty and economics. Funiciello reminded the audience that recent federal monetary policy \(which is set by the Republican-dominated Federal dampen economic growth and ward off inflation. While this is good for the middle and upper classes, which turn out to vote, it is bad for the less privileged members of the working class who find themselves scrapping for minimum-wage jobs with no health benefits. Like President Bill Clinton, Bush would require welfare moms to get jobs after two years of assistance, but at least Clinton recognizes that it would only make things worse to simply mandate a two-year limit without other reforms to improve mothers’ abilities to get and keep good jobs while caring for their children and those other reforms have conservatives howling. One of the main problems with forcing welfare mothers into jobs is that at the min imum wage of $4.25 an hour the mother would earn only $8,500 in a year. That would make her ineligible for AFDC but, perhaps more importantly, she and her children also would lose Medicaid coverage, which is worth another $252 a month. She still would be $3,075 below the federal poverty level. “There are times when it makes more sense to spend your time rearing your children than flipping burgers,” Funiciello said. She argues that the state would be better off increasing its welfare ‘payments and stopping the stigmatizing of recipients. Texas gets a 64-cent federal match for every dollar it spends on welfare and that money goes almost immediately into the state’s economy, but precious few are the legislators who will take up this cause. Funiciello noted that widows can get $430 a month in Social Security payments, plus another $430 for each minor child, without public disparagement, while a mother on welfare in Texas receives $188 for a family of three and she is considered a chiseler. When she pulls out food stamps, all eyes behind her check out her purchases. She attributed the difference in attitudes toward Social Security and AFDC to differences in race and class and the refusal to admit that welfare mothers work for their money too. She also noted that New York has relatively high benefitsnot high enough to live on, but three times as high as Texas but it has a lower rate of teen-aged unwed mothers than Texas. Mississippi, with still lower benefits than Texas, has higher rates of unwed mothers. And she argued that cutting off welfare for women who have more babies ends up punishing the baby. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s spewed social service dollars in every direction, Funiciello writes, but few poor people got the jobs the programs were designed to stimulate. “Most of the decent ones went to middle-class social welfare professionals, who were perceived to be an important cog in a deteriorating Democratic party machine.” Next month Republicans hope to regain control in Congress for the first time in 40 years and if polls are to be believed they have a shot at it. The social contract of the New Deal and the Great Society is coming apart and the GOP hopes to replace it with the New Paradigm \(also known as “I Got the most fertile ground to sew ideas about guaranteed income but, as she said, “At least you should start talking about it.” J.C. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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