Letter to Members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Support HR 3486, the RISE Out of Poverty Act

Dear Member of the Congressional Black Caucus,

We are writing to you to request that you sign on and actively support H.R. 3486, the Rise Out of Poverty (RISE) Act (Rep. Gwen Moore, D-WI).  The goal of RISE (H.R. 3486) is to reduce child poverty, and RISE would get rid of some of the most punitive aspects of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

We are also requesting that the Women’s Option to Raise Kids Act (WORK Act, H.R. 4379) that was introduced in the last Congress by Representative Pete Stark be reintroduced.  WORK would recognize that raising young children is vital work, and give mothers on welfare the option of raising young children fulltime at home until the age of three.

We hope support for the RISE Act and reintroducing the WORK Act will be a priority for your office as well as for the Congressional Black Caucus.  The impact of the two Acts will be to tackle poverty and as you know, poverty is the greatest crisis facing Black and other people of color and ending it must be a priority. Poor Black people are poorer today than three decades ago and the present economic crisis has hit women of color the hardest.  The fastest growing populations of homeless people are single mothers and their children, a disproportionate percentage are of color. And mothers are also the fastest growing population of prisoners, indeed 75% of women prisoners are mothers, many of whom are in prison for crimes of poverty.  It is no accident that when welfare is cut the number of single mothers arrested for prostitution increases.

Poverty rates among African American and Latinas/Hispanic families, 27.4 and 26.6 percent respectively, are more than double that of white families which is now 9.9 percent, up from 9.4 percent in 2009.  Native Americans have the highest poverty rates in the US. The number of US households living on less than $2 per person per day- a standard World Bank measure of poverty in developing nations —rose by 130%  between 1996 and 2011.  This growth of poverty is mainly concentrated among families most affected by the 1996 welfare reform legislation: the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act”.  Extreme poverty has nearly tripled for female-headed households, with women of color disproportionately impacted.

A former welfare mother herself, Representative Moore first introduced the “Rewriting to Improve and Secure an Exit Out of Poverty” or “RISE” Act on December 6, 2011.  It would require states to provide assistance sufficient to meet the survival needs of families, as well as provide benefits and services to families at risk of having a child removed from the home because of poverty, and stop the clock on the 5-year time limit during a recession.  Other provisions include:

  • Allowing mothers to keep child support on top of welfare;
  • Entitling family members to benefits who are caring fulltime for disabled children, parents or other relatives;
  • Expediting benefits for domestic violence survivors;
  • Supporting education by excluding student aid from welfare calculations and ending the 12-month educational limits so that mothers can once again pursue a 2-4 year college education;
  • Ending the lifetime ban on assistance for families where one member has not complied with work requirements/workfare as well as for ex-prisoners with a drug felony conviction;
  • Removing the 12-month lifetime limit on exclusion of single parents of infants under one year from the work participation rate calculation;
  • Protecting wages and working conditions by entitling mothers to refuse jobs below minimum wage or at work sites on strike or lockout.

TANF or welfare “reform” has been devastating and divisive to our families and entire communities. The April 9, 2012 New York Times article on the impact of welfare reform reflected some of what we know from our own experience and that of those around us “…poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners.”

Mothers have had children removed from their care after being charged with welfare fraud for working as a housecleaner while receiving benefits too low to live on. Others have had to choose between homelessness and returning to an abusive partner; and then if we are a victim of domestic abuse or become homeless, child welfare detains our children and places them in foster care or on a fast track adoption schedule, accusing us of failure to protect our children. In fact, welfare “reform” transferred money from welfare into “child welfare”, and the numbers of children removed from their homes and placed in foster care with strangers – especially from families of color – due not to abuse or neglect but to poverty – have skyrocketed since its passage. Black children are more likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care, to stay in foster care longer and never returned to their families.

Mothers do the hard work of giving birth to and raising the next generation, the fact that this work is not valued and its economic value counted had led to decades of attack on single mothers on welfare as “welfare queens,” or lazy do-nothings.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The last Senator Moynihan said in his book The Politics of a Guaranteed Income, “If American society recognized homemaking and child rearing as productive work to be included in the national economic accounts…the receipt of welfare might not imply dependency”.  President Obama has said that being a mother is the hardest job there is.  It is a job made even harder the fewer resources we have.

As people of color, we have survived slavery, genocide of Native American people, Jim Crow apartheid, starvation, lynching, and face further demonization if we are also immigrant people. We have had to struggle for basic survival, and mothers are on the front lines of this survival struggle, along with our children.

We now have an opportunity to reverse years of bigoted, demeaning and discriminatory violence of a financial kind against mothers with the least, and to begin to change direction from suffering and death to caring and nurturing of moms and children with the RISE and, we hope, soon to be reintroduced WORK Acts.

Our group is part of a national and international campaign to end poverty of mothers and children everywhere and in the US we are focusing on the RISE and WORK acts. Please see attached Early Day Motion put forward by John McDonald MP of the British Parliament in support of the Acts.

We will contact your office for your response, or you can reach us via phone at or email. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Margaret Prescod, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network and Women of Color/GWS

Organizations who have participated thus far:

Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), Benton Harbor, MI

Rossana Cambron, member, Military Families Speak Out, Southern California

DHS/DCFS – Give Us Back Our Children/Southern California & Philadelphia, PA

Energy Rescue, Omaha, NE

Every Mother is a Working Mother Network/Philadelphia & Southern CA

Family Advocacy Movement, Omaha, NE

FamilyConnectionCenter, Cleveland, Ohio

Global Women’s Strike, Guyana, UK, US

Legal Action for Women, San Francisco, CA & London, England

Massachusetts Welfare Rights Union, Mattapan, MA

Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit, MI

National Welfare Rights Union, Detroit, MI

Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights (POWER), Olympia, WA

Payday Men’s Network, US & UK

Queer Strike/ US & UK

Red Thread, Guyana, South America

Single Mothers’ Self Defense, London, England

Survivors, Inc., Mattapan, MA

US Prostitutes Collective/San Francisco, CA

Welfare Warriors MaGoD (Mothers and Grandmothers of Disappeared Children), Milwaukee,WI

WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)/UK & US

Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike, Guyana, UK, US

The above networks came together in response to a call by:  the Global Women’s Strike, Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike and Every Mother is a Working Mother Network.  www.globalwomenstrike.net  www.everymothernetwork.net

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