Tuesday, June 28, 2005

welfare reform policies endanger battered women and children

I received this press release via a policy listserv that I'm on. It basically says that as many as 60-85% of women on welfare are battered women seeking aid. Even though welfare policies allow battered women to be exempt from work requirements and lifetime limits while they get the help they need, states (in this study, California) do not provide these women with the necessary waivers for exemption. I can't put the agency's contact info here, but feel free to email me if you would like it. While most people agreed that welfare as a program failed most citizens, the approach taken by Congress in passing the reform Act of 1996 was the wrong direction if we want to keep our poverty level families safe. The '96 policy extensions end on Thursday, June 30 and must be extended or reauthorized by Congress for welfare programs to continue. Pres Bush is promoting, as a part of that reauthorization, to "funnel $1.5 billion into unproven "marriage promotion" schemes" (basically, pressuring single female recipients to marry). Below is the text of the press release.

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For Immediate Release: Wednesday, June 22, 2005
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS ENDANGERED UNDER WELFARE REFORM

Dramatic New Report Uncovers Abuse of Battered Women in California's Welfare System (Washington, DC)

Today, Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, received messages from battered women with children across the country - on more than 150 "wife beater" tshirts - about the government's failure to protect their families under welfare reform. More than 30 domestic violence survivors and their supporters were there to display the shirts, strung on 200 feet long of laundry lines in front of Dr. Horn's office, to publicize the release of a dramatic new report that details the utter failure of California's welfare system to protect battered women and their in our welfare system.

The report, entitled Family Violence is NOT an Option, was produced by LIFETIME, a California-based community organization of low-income parents pursuing education and training as the means to get their families out of poverty. Among the report's findings was the alarmingly low numbers of mothers who are receiving domestic violence services in the CalWORKs program, California's state welfare program created under welfare reform. While studies show that as high as 83% of CalWORKs mothers are domestic violence victims, in 2004 less than 680 mothers statewide -less than one-fifth of one percent of the state's welfare caseload - received domestic violence waivers in 2004."

These shirts are our way of airing the government's dirty laundry," explained LIFETIME Executive Director Diana Spatz. "Top welfare administrators in the Administration for Children and Families know what's happening to battered women and their children under welfare reform, and they haven't done anything to protect them."The mothers tried to deliver the report directly to Dr. Horn, along with tshirts from battered women and children around the country, after he declined to meet with them to discuss needed protections for battered women with children under TANF reauthorization.

The release of the report is timely, given that TANF is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2005, and House Republicans' plan to funnel $1.5 billion into unproven "marriage promotion" schemes under TANF reauthorization. Domestic violence survivors and welfare advocates fear that this plan will encourage low-income mothers to stay with their abusers. "Marriage is not an option for many parents on welfare, especially survivors of domestic violence. They need counseling, child care, and education, not husbands," said Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, Poverty and Welfare Study Director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

By contrast, Congress has never dedicated funding to support battered women with children in the welfare system, despite studies that show that 65% of welfare mothers nationwide are domestic violence victims. As a result, battered women are unable to get the services they need to overcome abuse - and get their families off welfare. "I left my abusive husband and had to get on welfare; I had to ask for help for domestic violence from three different caseworkers. I was outright denied each time," said Leilani Luia, mother of three and LIFETIME member. "First my husband abused me. Now I'm being abused by the welfare department with no way out."

The mothers made several requests to deliver the report to Dr. Horn in person, before police were called in to break up the peaceful - albeit loud -protest. However, the officers with the Department of Homeland Security who responded ended up sympathizing with the protesters, and allowed the mothers to keep their shirts on display. When Dr. Horn refused to meet with the protesters, the officers delivered the report - and shirts - to the Assistant Secretary's office on their behalf.

As Luia explained, "this report shows that welfare reform has failed to protect mothers like me. Family violence is not an option for me and my children - so why can't mothers like me get the services, counseling and protections we need?"

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