February 20, 2010

From Democracy Now!, this depressing story that only confirms the damage done by Bill Clinton's welfare reform:

JUAN GONZALEZ: The number of Americans receiving food stamps is at an all-time high. Earlier this year, the Agricultural Department said one in eight Americans—nearly 38 million people—received food stamps last October. The New York Times reported that about six million Americans receive food stamps, saying they have no other income.

A new investigation from ColorLines Magazine, supported by the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, shows that some poor families are forced to sell their food stamps on the black market for cash in order to survive this prolonged recession.

When Congress overhauled welfare in 1996, it created the Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or TANF, program, which placed time limits on aid and made cash assistance contingent on finding a job.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, TANF is up for reauthorization this fall, and journalist Seth Wessler’s investigation focuses on the impact of both the recession and welfare reform in Hartford, Connecticut, a state which has the shortest welfare time limit in the country, just twenty-one months. Seth Wessler is a senior research associate at Applied Research Center, a think tank on race, and a staff writer for ColorLines Magazine. His article, “Selling Food Stamps for Kid’s Shoes," is available online at colorlines.com.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Explain what’s happening in Hartford.

SETH WESSLER: Well, this really is a story about what happens when the Great Recession meets welfare reform from 1996. It’s a story about what happens when people are pushed off of cash assistance by a welfare program that’s intent is to push people off of cash assistance, families trying to raise their children; what people do now that even those low-wage poverty jobs, that families have been stuck in for now a decade and a half, aren’t available.

And so, I spent the winter reporting from Hartford, Connecticut, a city that’s long been hit by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and is struggling economically to figure out what families are doing now that the recession has hit and there really is no substantive safety net for poor families. And what I found was that people are forced to make very difficult decisions and are forced to trade their food assistance at bodegas for pennies on the dollar in order to make some cash to pay their bills, to pay rent, to buy, in the case of one woman I spent time with—who we’re calling Eva in this story; she asked her name be changed—to buy children’s shoes for her kids. So, people are forced to, in the end, break the law to get by. And what I see this as is a story about poor families innovating to survive in a horribly difficult economy after years of a stripped safety net.

Eva, the woman I spent three months with, talking to, was cut off of cash assistance last March. She’s in the state, Connecticut, with the shortest time limit in the country. After welfare reform, states were given vast amount of power to determine how long people could stay on cash assistance, how generous the program would be. And the state set the shortest time limit of any state of the country. She was cut off of cash assistance in the middle of the worst job crisis in a generation and has been searching for work endlessly without any luck. She’s a woman who’s been working low-wage poverty jobs for the greater part of a decade and now can’t even find one of those. She’s precipitously close to the edge now of becoming homeless, of not being able to feed her kids. And she’s forced to sell her food stamps, like many women who I talked to in Connecticut, in order to get by.

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