Fifteen years ago, former President Clinton passed welfare reform, signing into law “the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act,” which had the effect of reorganizing welfare into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. Fifteen years later, with an economy spiraling downwards, the largest racial wealth gap we’ve had in decades, and corporate socialism on the rise, TANF has done nothing to alleviate poverty or help young, poor families get jobs. TANF is up for re-authorization at the end of September, but the entire program is in need of a major overhaul. As welfare reform was precipitated by deeply entrenched racist archetypes about black women [still extant], an overhaul is not likely to come any time soon.
TANF offers public assistance so long as beneficiaries show that they are looking for jobs and attend job-training seminars. Sounds reasonable? In a vacuum, perhaps. If beneficiaries do not find a substitute source of income or job before the time limit to receive assistance runs out, they will be sanctioned and kicked off the rolls.
Like most public assistance programs (e.g., unemployment benefits insurance), TANF does not take into account the fact that many of the beneficiaries, most of whom are young women of color, are primary caretakers for their children or disabled family members. Further, TANF does not take into account that beneficiaries apply for welfare because they have lost their jobs, thereby making their continued receipt of assistance contingent upon attaining a job all the more illogical and unhelpful.
Fifteen years later and the message is clear. Young women of color are punished for not finding jobs, whereas affluent white men receive protection [rather than accountability] from the State for their economic terrorism.