WASHINGTON – Women with a banner that read “Every mother is a working mother” picketed on Capitol Hill June 17 to demand that the Senate reject George W. Bush’s punitive 40-hour “workfare” scheme and instead enact welfare reform that moves mothers out of poverty with educational opportunity and decent jobs.
The protesters stood on Constitution Avenue outside the Senate Dirksen Building to sound the alarm that Bush’s reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) approved by the House will force women to accept poverty wage jobs while failing to provide childcare and transportation.
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) told reporters, “While welfare ‘reform’ has moved people off the rolls, it has failed miserably at moving people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. It’s high time the Senate catches on and passes the most family-friendly welfare bill this country has ever seen.”
A 2000 report by the Kellogg Foundation showed that nine out of 10 people in the U.S. favor generous education and job training to enable welfare recipients to find and hold living-wage jobs. “Yet less than one percent of TANF funds were spent on education and training in 2000,” she said. It is critical, Gandy said, that the Senate version allow enrollment in education programs to be counted toward TANF’s mandatory work hours. The Bush version does not recognize education or job-training as a “work-related activity.”
Currently, the federal government provides child care for only 12 percent of TANF workfare enrollees. “Without child care, it is impossible for these women to move out of poverty and hold jobs,” Gandy said. She praised the bill introduced by Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii) for stopping the clock on the five-year lifetime limit while recipients are enrolled in high school, college or job-training programs. It was rejected by the House. Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) have introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
Gandy told the World the welfare struggle looms as a major issue when NOW opens its election-year conference June 21-23 at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul, Minn. As many as 600 NOW chapter and state leaders will attend, Gandy said. “We are optimistic about the 2002 elections,” she said. “We have some great women candidates running who support women’s rights: in New Hampshire, a whole slate of candidates including the governor; in California where every one of the candidates we were backing won their primary.”
She blasted redistricting schemes, in Michigan, for example, where progressive Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) is forced to run against veteran Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in a newly redrawn Congressional district. “Look around the country,” she said, “Women and people of color are disproportionately targeted in this redistricting.”
Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), Gandy pointed out, is targeted by both the Republicans and rightwing Democrats who are providing lavish financial backing of the hardware-lumber giant, Home Depot, to a candidate running against McKinney in the Democratic primary. “We sent organizers in to help in Cynthia’s very first race,” said Gandy. Then the Supreme Court threw out her district as “racially gerrymandered.”
Gandy chuckled, “She ran for reelection in a majority white district and she pulled it out again. She is bold. And bold is good.”
Bonnie Macri of JEDI Women in Salt Lake City said welfare mothers in Utah are now losing their children because of TANF. “Someone is sent from the Division of Child and Family Services,” Macri said. “In many cases, they remove the child because of poverty. They call it ‘failure to provide.’ That’s because the women can’t get jobs and have no resources. Every child living in poverty is ‘left behind.’”
Pat Gowens, leader of Welfare Warriors in Milwaukee, charged that Wal-Mart and other billionaire corporations, “need more low wage workers who can be forced to take any job, anywhere, for any pay.”
Gowens was passing out a leaflet headlined “Milwaukee’s Bloated Welfare Empire.” During the tenure of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, the leaflet said, the biggest winner in “welfare reform” was Maximus, the private contractor paid $45.1 million plus an additional $3.2 million in bonuses to manage the TANF caseload. Maximus admitted spending $450,000 of Milwaukee welfare funds to promote itself in New York and to pay for “parties, festivals and promotional items.” Their temp agency, MaxStaff, was closed after being found guilty of sex discrimination.
Welfare (AFDC) in Wisconsin in 1986 cost taxpapyers $548 million to serve 300,000 clients, the leaflet charged. In 2001 Wisconsin’s welfare (W2) cost taxpayers $710 million to serve less than 20,000 clients; $65 million was paid out in profits with another $26 million anticipated this year.
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