WASHINGTON, D.C.—The recession is turning so-called welfare reform into a catastrophe happening before our eyes. That’s the bottom line behind a myriad of technical reports and barely comprehensible bureaucratic phrases of a group of experts meeting here today. Pulled together by the Kellogg Foundation for a long-term assessment of the welfare system, they warned that millions of children and immigrants are being hurt by workfare rules. In addition, more and more poor people have no insurance. Just over 39 million Americans are without health insurance. Nine million of them are kids.
Unemployment rose to 8.2 million in November, up from 5.7 million a year ago. With 33 states reporting an increase in welfare caseloads. States are already cutting back social service programs. Florida, for example, is cutting Medicaid, long-term care, child protection, and home and community services for the elderly, reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a public interest group that tracks welfare. Medicaid and other health services are being cut in several states including Massachusetts, California, Kentucky, Illinois, Washington, Florida, Arizona, and Indiana.
Since workfare began in 1991, welfare caseloads have dropped from 14.4 million recipients to 5.8 million as of June 2000. About two thirds of those going off welfare are working. More than half of these people have incomes below the federal poverty line. Half of them have no health insurance. Only 43 percent who are thought to be eligible for food stamps get them. It’s harder for people with chronic diseases or mental handicaps to make it off welfare. Black and Latino welfare recipients have a more difficult time finding jobs than whites.
It gets worse. There is rank discrimination against immigrant children who, unlike their parents, are American citizens. “Thirty-three percent of citizen children with immigrant parents lack health insurance, compared with 19 percent of children with citizen parents,” according to one report issued at the conference which summarized the foundation’s Devolution Initiative.
The recession means 1.1 million more children are in jobless families, according to Deborah Weinstein, of the Children’s Defense Fund. By passing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) in August 1996, Congress did away with the cash assistance entitlement of Aid to Familes with Dependent Children welfare system and replaced it with a time-limited, work oriented system of block grants to the states called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
While the economic boom sucked some welfare recipients into the low-paying job stream, the TANF block grants remained nominally unchanged, but because of inflation actually declined by some 13.5 percent, according to the Childrfen’s Defense Fund.
The welfare cuts fall directly on 5.3 million families headed by single moms. There are 800,000 families run by men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.