Academic journal article Family Relations

"Welfare Mothers" Welcome Reform, Urge Compassion

Academic journal article Family Relations

"Welfare Mothers" Welcome Reform, Urge Compassion

Article excerpt

"Welfare Mothers" Welcome Reform, Urge Compassion*

The welfare system in the United States has undergone enormous restructuring. Previous research suggests that welfare recipients were highly dissatified with the welfare system. This study expands previous treatises by focusing on their views of welfare reform. Based on in-depth interviews with 47 recipients of AFDC, flow called TAVF we examine their level of support towards three specific reforms: (a) time limits on benefits; (b) work requirements; and (c) family caps," which limit or deny additional benefits for children born to mothers already receiving assistance. We found that recipients were eager for welfare reform. The were most likely to embrace work requirements, and least likely to support time limits and family caps. They urged compassion and flexibility to meet individual needs and were critical of adopting models based on popular stereotypes about women on welfare. The data are interpreted in light of Individualistic and Feminist Welfare State theories.

Key Words: AFDC, poverty, TANF welfare, welfare reform.

Welfare has been one of the most vexing social policy concerns in the United States. It's principal program, Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) has been accused of fostering long-term dependency, family break-ups, and illegitimacy (Armey, 1994; Murray, 1984, 1988). Welfare recipients are stigmatized (Goffman,1963; Jarett, 1996; Seccombe, James, & Battle Walters, 1998), and are largely viewed as being lazy and unmotivated, looking for a free ride at the expense of the American taxpayers. Many people believe that poverty is a result of their own lack of drive, thrift, or human capital (Davis & Hagen, 1996; Feagin, 1975; Hunt, 1996; Smith & Stone, 1989). This individual perspective-which suggests that poverty is the result of individual flaws or inadequacies rather than a result of idiosyncrasies within our larger social structureholds widespread appeal within the population, even among welfare recipients themselves (Seccombe, 1999).

Attempts to reform welfare, AFDC in particular, have a longstanding history (Abramovitz, 1996a; Gordon, 1994; Trattner, 1989). Both Republicans and Democrats have tried to reconstruct welfare, or end it altogether. President Clinton signed sweeping welfare reform legislation, which became federal law on July 1, 1997. PL 104-103 abolished AFDC, and replaced it with a new program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Considerable latitude was turned over to individual states to implement reform within federally mandated parameters. Some of the key features include a lifetime welfare payment of no more than five years, with the majority of recipients being required to work after two years. Twenty-five percent of recipients in each state must be working by the end of 1997; by the year 2002, 50 percent must be employed. States are free to apply more stringent policies, and many have elected to do so (Gallagher, Gallagher, Perese, Schreiber, & Watson, 1998).

This research provides insiders' accounts on several of the reforms implemented in our welfare system. Although recipients' dissatisfaction with the welfare system has been well documented (Berrick, 1995; Edin & Lein, 1997; Rank, 1994; Schein, 1995; Seccombe, 1999), their views on welfare reform measures are not well understood. Based on in-depth interviews with women who receive welfare, this research examines the support or opposition towards three reforms in particular: (a) time limits on welfare; (b) work requirements; and (c) "family caps," which limit or deny additional benefits for children born to mothers on welfare.

Conceptual Framework

Feminist welfare state theorists are concerned with the ways in which the welfare system and welfare reform efforts perpetuate gender inequalities and poverty among women (Abramovitz, 1996b; Gordon, 1994; Harrington Meyer, 1996; Nelson, 1989; Orloff, 1993; Quadagno & Fobes, 1995; Miller, 1992). …

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