In 1911 welfare (“the mothers’ pension”) was introduced to enable mothers without income to keep their children.
In 1959 welfare was to “make it possible for a mother to choose between staying at home to care for her children and taking a job.”
In 1977 the first congressionally mandated Conference on Women, with elected representatives from all states and US territories, agreed that: “The elimination of poverty must be a priority for all those working for equal rights for women . . . And just as with other workers, homemakers receiving income transfer payments should be afforded the dignity of having that payment called a wage, not welfare.”
In 1995 the UN World Conference on Women agreed that national accounts should include the value of caregiving work.
In 2007 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed that “Improving the health of mothers and their children is a primary goal” and that “protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding is a key strategy towards this goal.”
These decisions are still to be implemented. Poverty has increased. While the US is the richest country in the world with the biggest military budget, nearly 1 in 2 people (150 million people) live in poverty or low income (latest US census). 26.6% of single parent families live in poverty (44% of Black families; 33.4% Latino/Hispanic; 22% white). Yet access to welfare has dropped from 68% of low income families in 1996 to 27% in 2010. Infant and child mortality has increased. So has domestic and sexual violence. Single mothers and their children are the fastest rising population of homeless people and of families with zero income. Nearly half of single mothers on welfare have a disability or a child with a disability. Mothers on Workfare are least likely to breastfeed. Mothers are the fastest rising population of prisoners.
The RISE Out of Poverty Act (H.R. 3486, Rep. Gwen Moore, D-WI) would:
- Make reducing child poverty the number one goal.
- Raise benefits to meet families’ basic needs.
- Allow mothers to keep child support on top of welfare.
- Entitle unmarried mothers under 18 living independently to assistance.
- Entitle family members caring fulltime for disabled children, parents or other relatives to benefits.
- Keep children with their mothers by requiring states to provide benefits and services for families at risk of having a child removed.
- Exempt domestic violence survivors from residency and child support requirements, caps and time limits; and expedite their benefits.
- Support education by excluding student aid from welfare calculations, and by ending 12-month educational limits so mothers can pursue 2-4 year college courses.
- End the lifetime ban on assistance for families where one member has not complied with work requirements/Workfare, and for ex-prisoners with a drug felony conviction.
- Guarantee childcare for mothers on Workfare or studying, or leaving welfare for a low waged job.
- Increase funding for Native American (tribal) programs.
- Reduce mandatory Workfare to 20 hours for all.
- Count as Workfare all job search, training and related activities (ending allocated time limits).
- Exempt from Workfare single parents of every infant under one, ending the limit of 12 months in a lifetime.
- End sanctions against single parents who refuse Workfare if they have no childcare for a child under 13.
- Protect wages and working conditions by entitling mothers to refuse jobs below minimum wage or at work sites on strike or lockout.
- Restrict state powers to impose sanctions by taking account of individual circumstances (disability, childcare needs, homelessness, domestic violence, literacy, English . . .), and by allowing appeals.
- Prohibit states from lowering the five year lifetime limit for welfare, and exclude from that limit any month where unemployment is at or above 6.5%.
- Require that states report on progress in reducing child poverty, preventing child removal, and on the income of families leaving welfare.
- Allocate adequate permanent funding for welfare to cover inflation and increase in child population.
We are calling for the reintroduction of the WORK (Women’s Option to Raise Kids) Act (introduced by former Rep. Pete Stark, D-CA), which would abolish Workfare requirements for single parents of children under three.
- This would: Enable children to receive their mother’s nurturing in the first years of life.
- Recognize that raising children is vital work by counting it towards Workfare requirements to receive benefits.
- Recognize that all mothers, including those on welfare, have the right to raise their own children at least up to the age of three, “giving them the same option that wealthy families enjoy.” (Rep. Stark’s press release)