Feminist Policy Scholars Intervene in Welfare Debate

By Mink, Gwendolyn | Social Justice, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Feminist Policy Scholars Intervene in Welfare Debate


Mink, Gwendolyn, Social Justice


AS PUNITIVE WELFARE PROPOSALS BEGAN TO MAKE THEIR WAY THROUGH CONGRESS in the spring of 1995, a group of feminist social policy scholars joined together to combine our voices and deploy our expertise in sisterhood with poor mothers and in opposition to "welfare reform." Calling ourselves the Women's Committee of One Hundred--because our initial goal was to pledge 100 scholars, advocates, and social welfare practitioners to the cause of welfare justice--we lobbied Congress and the White House, mobilized call-in campaigns, designed and placed ads in the New York Times and the New Republic, and developed teach-in materials for communities and campuses. Our primary message was that caregiving is work, including when it is performed for one's own children or other dependents. We worked to bring the caregiving issue to the welfare debate, and so to expose the race- and class-based double standard behind efforts to strip poor mothers of economic security through stringent welfare requirements such as mandatory work outside the home and time limits.

In August 1996, President Clinton signed into law the welfare legislation we had opposed. The new welfare law replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, which had provided income assistance to poor children and their caregivers for 60 years, with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). The TANF law stipulated more stringent regulation of poor mothers'intimate decisions; imposed work requirements that foreclosed caregiving by poor mothers for their own children; meted out punishments and disincentives to mothers who do not satisfy various mandates; authorized discrimination against documented immigrants; and declared a cumulative five-year lifetime limit on eligibility for welfare. In addition, the 1996 law required that the new TANF program be legislatively reauthorized in 2002.

The Women's Committee of One Hundred targeted the 2002 reauthorization process as an opportunity to try to undo some of the damage wrought by the 1996 law--damage both to poor mothers' rights and to their families' economic security. Other groups also organized to this end, including the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW-LDEF) and the Welfare Made a Difference Campaign, as well as grass-roots welfare rights groups throughout the country.

During 2000 and 2001, recipients and advocates at the grass roots and inside the beltway strove to develop a legislative alternative to the punitive policy framework. In the early spring of 2001, my late mother Patsy Mink, then a member of Congress, decided that she wanted to bring a progressive welfare bill to the table during the reauthorization process, much as she had done during the "welfare reform" process in 1995. On behalf of my mother and as a member of the Women's Committee, I worked closely with NOW-LDEF and the Welfare Made a Difference Campaign to try to design a bill that would recognize mothers' rights and caregiving work while promoting economic security. …

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