Tag Archives: welfare

Confusing Support and Autonomy for Welfare Recipients

Greenville       Some months ago I was reading about the demise of a significant social service and advocacy organization.

A former executive director, David Tobis, who had also written a book about the organization and was one of its founders was quoted saying, “Movements start, they rise, they have influence and then they abate.  Parents are parents.  They are not administrators.”

What a peculiar quote attributed to him.  His comment on movements is commonplace, though not necessarily correct, but more to the point, his point on the very constituency that made up his organization, many of whom were welfare mothers, is so sweeping that it not only reads wrongheaded, but patronizing.  Of course, a huge number of parents are administrators of businesses, nonprofits, government, unions, and whatever might be named.  His real point is that he doesn’t believe the former recipients of this organizations’ services were ever capable of running the outfit.  Wow!

The Child Welfare Organizing project had made it twenty-five years, according to the New York Times, as “a group of mostly low-income mothers in New York City whose children had been taken away from them” but they “managed to turn their pain into policy.”  This is already a moving story of exceptional women, and by their record, capable of great things, since “they were credited with pushing for changes that helped steer the precipitous drop in the number of children in city foster care, now at about 9000 from about 50,000 in the early 1990s.”  For my money, hats off to these sisters and their protests and advocacy.  They won proposals in the legislature recently and, be careful how you’re quoted Brother Tobis, “two former employees now hold key positions in the Administration for Children’s Services, the city’s child welfare agency.”

The postmortem seemed to hint at a loss of focus by one executive director and a trip o Fiji and other drinks of the self-help programs out there where she was a fan.  But the real story seems to have had a lot to do with race, class, and gender, as sadly Tobis’ comment seemed to reveal.  Most the child welfare bureaucracy was white and male, and so were many of the administrators of the Child Welfare Organizing Project.  Switching to a black woman director who was a former recipient seems to have exposed the hard truth that they were not really full-fledged members of the club.

Sandra Killet, who was that former director, seems to have nailed it better in her overview.  She argued that the mothers were capable of both advocacy and administration but that “leaders of child welfare agencies should not confuse a need for support with a relinquishing of autonomy,” according to the Times summary of her remarks.  She added, “You don’t have to follow their lead.”

Perhaps you do to get the money, it seems, but she has hit the nail on head.  Confusing recipients of services with sheep to be lead, rather than adults with lives to lead, has been a critical mistake in dealing with welfare recipients and low-and-moderate income families for generations when it comes to government programs and funding.

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Increase Austerity, and Welfare Becomes More Popular!

New Orleans   Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare.  Finally!  Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.

The biggest takeaway seems simple.  If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.

In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits.  Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches.  This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.

In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist.  After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015.  But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now.  Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years.  More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives.  That’s huge!

Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either.  A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018.  It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down.  Praise, lord!

It’s not all cheery in old England of course.  The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad.  The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.”  They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.

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Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.

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