Letter from the US: 'Reforming' children into hunger &&

August 14, 1996

Letter from the US. By Barry Sheppard

'Reforming' children into hunger

By Barry Sheppard

By stating his willingness to sign the welfare "reform" bill passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans, President Clinton stepped into the vanguard of world leaders spearheading the capitalist drive against working people.

The bill will end, not reform, the 60-year-old Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, part of the Social Security Act passed in the Great Depression.

Instead, the states will receive block grants to administer their own programs. However, over the next six years they will receive $56 billion less than the current program would have provided.

More important, the new bill instructs the states to cut off welfare payments after two years, if the recipient has not found a job. Moreover, a recipient can receive payments for a maximum of five years over their lifetime.

Clinton and other supporters of the "reform" argue that it will move people from welfare to work. They charge that people on welfare have become "addicted" to it, won't try to find work and are in a "cycle of dependency".

The reality is that most recipients receive less than $400 a month, which is way below poverty level. But for a person on welfare to get a job, usually at the entry level and at the minimum wage (scheduled to go up to $5.15 an hour in two years), and pay for child-care and transportation out of that, they end up with less than the current welfare payment.

The viciousness of the stipulation that a person either get work in two years or be cut off is underscored by the fact that there is no provision for providing jobs or child-care. The impact will be even harsher in the next economic downturn as unemployment rises and jobs are harder to find.

Those hit the hardest will be children and, disproportionately, blacks, Hispanics and other people of colour, single mothers and poorer whites.

One of the few voices to speak out against the bill in the Senate, Patrick Moynihan from New York, reported that the Urban Institute estimates that "3,500,00 children will be dropped from the rolls in 2001. By 2005, 4,896,000 children will be cut off.

"The Urban Institute has also estimated ... that this bill will cause 2.6 million persons to fall below the poverty line; 1.1 million of those impoverished will be children. To say nothing of those persons already living in poverty. They will be pushed even further below the poverty line. The average loss in income for families already below the poverty line will be $1040 per year. I note that the Urban Institute's estimates are based on quite conservative assumptions, so the actual impact could be even worse than predicted ...

"The ... report before us is not 'welfare reform', it is 'welfare repeal'. It is the first step in dismantling the social contract that has been in place in the United States since at least the 1930s. Do not doubt that Social Security itself, which is to say insured retirement benefits, will be next."

Moynihan also exposed the phoniness of the idea that the states, already making cutbacks of their own in social services, and the cities, will be able to handle the job better than the federal government:

"The New York State Financial Control Board estimated in March that the city's revenues will grow by 0.8% a year and its spending will grow by 2% — without new welfare spending. Now this. It will be ruinous for us."

The bill also slashes $28 billion from the nutrition assistance program, popularly known as "food stamps". Seventy per cent of families affected will be families with children, and half of those families have incomes under US$6300 a year. Many are the so-called working poor, people working in jobs with low pay.

The food stamp cuts will even hit families who spend over 50% of their income on housing, who will have to choose between food and heating during the winter.

So the poorest children will be cut off welfare if their single parent cannot find work in two years, and at the same time have their food stamps cut.

And, to top it off, the new bill throws legal immigrants off the rolls entirely.

Bob Herbert, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote sarcastically, "They should have included, in the charade called welfare reform, instructions on how you actually get these useless elderly people out of their dwellings — these blind people, and the men and women addled by Alzheimer's, and the ones disabled by strokes or cancer or heart disease. I'm talking about the elderly disabled immigrants who, by the grace of our President and a rabid Congress, are soon to be suddenly destitute. Paying rent will be out of the question, so they will have to be evicted. Do you get stretchers and carry them out of their homes and leave them on the curb, or do you wheel them out, or do you just drag them out?"

Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for president, said in a public letter to Clinton, "The elimination of the entitlement status of the Aid to Families With Dependent Children, as well as deep cuts in the food stamp program and the denial of assistance to legal immigrants, will greatly increase hunger and poverty among children and other Americans.

"During your administration", Nader continued, "welfare for corporate interests has continued to grow, while both major parties posture over how best to take food out of the mouths of children".

Columnist Molly Irvins pointed out that the US is the world's leading arms merchant. "The old phrase 'merchants of death' fits us nicely, thank you. But what is even worse than that is that we taxpayers are subsidizing this dismal trade to the tune of $7.5 billion a year. While Congress is busy cutting welfare to poor American children, we're beefing up welfare for our arms merchants."

Nader called for a program going in the opposite direction. He demands legislation to create "decent paying jobs for all those able to work", for raising the minimum wage, giving the working poor and those on welfare increased tax breaks so they can keep more of their earning for life's necessities, and "providing for universal access to health and child care."

Some are saying that Clinton signed this draconian bill only because this is an election year, and bashing blacks, Hispanics, the poor and immigrants is popular with certain segments of the population. It is true that a section of white workers have been sucked into such reactionary views, which have been promoted by the capitalist politicians of all stripes and by much of the media. But Clinton has long promised to "end welfare as we know it". This was one of his explicit campaign promises in 1992.

It is to be hoped, however, that Clinton's carrying out of his 1992 promise will help the scales fall from the eyes of those on the left still supporting Clinton and the two-party shell game, and increase support for the Nader campaign against that system.