Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States

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Thanks to a group of women's historians this overlooked movement is taking its rightful place in twentieth-century history. Kornbluh's book is the third of a series of recent studies. Although Kornbluh covers much of the same ground as Nadasen, like Orleck she focuses on a local case, that of New York City, and places it in a national context.

By the early s a dedicated group of civil rights and poverty activists had formed Citywide, which coordinated welfare activism. But New York led the way in wide-scale organizing efforts with school boycotts, labor strikes, and housing protests all shaping a discourse of citizenship rights that would prove central to the NWRO's ideology.

While welfare rights activists used many civil rights tactics, they also employed a "benefit-based" organizing strategy that offered immediate rewards to poor women and their families. This strategy emerged from the organizing experiences of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in California and its concrete, consumer-oriented demands proved very effective in recruiting members first to local organizations, and then to the NWRO.

Local officials often responded positively to what were legal and fair demands for winter coats, holiday allowances, and other "minimum standards.

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Kornbluh makes a strong case for the efficacy of legal strategies in the movement, [pp. But the success of legal strategies faltered under the weight of new public policies by the late s. In New York, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay appeased angry white voters dismayed by the growing welfare rolls by instigating a "flat grant" and supporting federal amendments to the Social Security Act that included work requirements.

Kornbluh argues that this retreat on the part of liberal Republicans meant that the NWRO was on a "collision course" with the city. They explained the disproportionate number of black and Puerto Rican women on welfare as a problem of a culture of poverty—which scholars such as Oscar Lewis described as lack of motivation to work, sexual promiscuity, and a desire for immediate gratification.

The culture of poverty discourse laid the foundation for arguments that recipients were the cause of their own poverty and needed to be educated and properly trained to ensure responsibility and economic independence. In the Johnson administration instituted a Work Incentive Program WIN , the first-ever mandatory federal employment rule for AFDC, requiring states to refer a portion of their welfare population to employment programs.

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This landmark legislation shifted the historic role of welfare away from support for single mothers toward one of expecting and requiring poor single mothers to take paid employment outside the home. It was similarly rooted in a culture of poverty argument, evidenced by his racially coded language of dependency and people taking advantage of the system.

Clinton alluded to the fear of black street crime, drug use, crack babies, the breakdown of the family, and the drain on public dollars. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families TANF , which replaced AFDC, limited lifetime welfare assistance to five years, mandated that recipients work for a minimum of 30 hours a week, and denied assistance to immigrants living in the United States for less than five years.

It contained clauses to bolster heterosexual marriage and offer parenting classes. TANF also gave states the flexibility to spend funds on things like child care or job training, rather than direct aid to those in need.


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States were pressured to get people off welfare—now the singular quantitative measure of success for the program—and used multiple strategies to deter the needy from applying for aid. Administrators implemented complicated and demeaning application procedures and relied on fingerprinting and drug testing to weed out the criminal element—although there was little evidence of any kind of criminal activity among recipients. The net result was that all recipients and applicants were assumed to be potential criminals.

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The welfare rolls have fallen since TANF was passed. The decline of welfare assistance, however, did not translate into a decline in poverty. Add to Cart. Free delivery. Arrives by Wednesday, Oct 9. Pickup not available.

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