Friday, February 19, 2016

New America Weekly: Lara Burt: 'TANF &Teachers- How Current Policies Are Keeping Single Mothers Down & Out of School'

Source:New America Foundation- New mother & her baby.
Source: The New Democrat 

"Imagine a poor single mother today raising two children on her own and working at least 20 hours per week at a low-wage job without benefits. Then imagine that she must face the choice between remaining eligible for the restricted support she receives from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or pursuing her aspirations for higher education.

The goal of the TANF program is ostensibly to help participants successfully transition to self-sufficiency. However, by placing barriers in the way of single mothers who wish to go to school through the program's strict “work first” policy, TANF undermines their ability to achieve this goal. As a result, poor parents in general and single mothers and their children in particular are suffering needlessly.

Roughly 40 percent of families headed by single-mothers are poor. In fact, these households are more likely than any other demographic group to fall below the poverty line. There are, of course, many factors that come together to make this unfortunate reality, but this disparity can be explained at least in part by a weak social-safety net, inadequate childcare, and lack of higher education opportunities." 

It’s not that TANF (or the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families) hasn’t succeeded, because it has. Take away the Great Recession and we’re not looking at a twenty-percent poverty rate today, because under TANF low-income parents are able to go back to school and get skills so they can get good jobs. We were at around ten-percent poverty in the late 1990s. Economic booms only apply to people with good skills who are prepared and qualified for good jobs. And are even leaving unemployment, or moving up for a better job.

And of course opponents of the bill from people on the Libertarian-Right who believe that government should do nothing to help people in poverty, to people on the Social Democratic-Left, who believe that self-reliance shouldn’t be the goal here and want bigger government cash payments instead, will say that the 1990s economic boom was the reason for the low poverty. But low-income adults especially need to have good skills in order to have good jobs.

TANF, was a great 1990s Welfare to Work and anti-poverty program. I believe the best government anti-poverty program ever created, because it encourages work and education over government dependence. And again without the two recessions of the 2000s TANF would have worked very well again, because President Bush supported it and even had Democratic support for it in Congress. 

What we need now is a Welfare to Work program that builds off of TANF. And says if you’re on Welfare, you’re going to work as soon as possible and that means taking at least one of the first jobs that you’re qualified for. But while these folks are going to work, they're able to keep all of their public assistance, including their Welfare checks up to the point that they can support themselves on their own and no longer need public assistance at all to support themselves and their families.Which is what's known as subsidized employment which encourages work over being homebody.

In exchange government will help you finish and further your education. As well as childcare assistance for your kids. So low-income low-skilled single-parents, have the time and the money to get a good education and to work. But not only will these new workers be going back to school as they’re entering the workforce, but they’ll continue to collect their public assistance benefits that they’re eligible for as low-income workers. Medicaid, Public Housing, Food Assistance, and even Welfare, etc.

So we should be investing more and going further with TANF, perhaps better known as Welfare to Work. Which would be a great investment in our low-income communities, but a great investment in our economy. Because we would be moving people off of public assistance all together with all the new educated workers we would be producing. And create a larger middle class and a smaller poverty class. Creating purchasing power for millions of new Americans. Money they would spend and invest in the economy. Money they could put back in their communities instead of abandoning them.

Welfare to Work, shouldn’t be about Welfare to fast food, or retail, or janitorial work, or other low-income, low-skilled jobs that don’t come with benefits after these new workers lose their childcare assistance and everything else they were getting from public assistance. But instead Welfare to the middle class and economic freedom. Which only comes through quality education and economic development.

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