It is known that welfare reform in the United States is focused on reformation of the framework of social security and welfare provisions.
The term welfare reform is used to characterize the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 which is regarded as a fundamental shift in providing federal cash assistance to the needy families in the United States. According to Hays, this act “had resulted in a dramatic decline in the welfare rolls – from 12.2 recipients to 5.3 million in 2001”ť (2004:8). Welfare reform denotes serious changes not only in size and scope, but also in different means of welfare provisions in the United States. In the book Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, Sharon Hays discusses the role of welfare reform and its impact on different social groups. She analyzes cultural and political assumptions concerning welfare laws and represents many interviews with recipients and welfare workers.
Sharon Hays argues that “a nation’s laws reflect a nation’s values”ť (2005:13). It means that welfare laws reflect the values of the nation which are rather “confused”ť. The welfare laws in the United States have impact on the commitment to “family values”ť. One of the examples is a penalty for unwed childbearing.Â Moreover, according to welfare laws, the poor in the USA lack of a good work ethic, as a result of which single mothers are pushed out of their homes and into the low-paying jobs. Besides, she mentions harsh penalties to those who do nothing to find a job and to those who lose a job for the so called “wrong”ť reasons, as well as for those who take time off when their children are abused by caregivers.
In her book, Sharon Hays used the terms the Work Plan and the Family Plan. According to Hays, in the Work Plan, there are certain work requirements of the welfare laws that are used to “rehabilitate”ť American mothers by means of their transformation from the so called stay-at-home mothers into the full-fledged members of the work force in the USA. She writes, “According to the logic of this plan, if the welfare office can train mothers to value work and self-sufficiency, the need for welfare receipt will be eliminated, and former recipients will become respectable mainstream American workers”ť (Hays 2005:34).Â However, in the Family Plan, the work requirements are used to punish those mothers who violate the laws and teach them a lesson when they ignore the traditional social roles of the American society, when they make decision to divorce or to have a child out of wedlock.
It is known that welfare system is connected with a system of “strictly enforced rules”ť which include several settings: the requirement on work participation that are specially designed to keep mothers busy to seek an employment, and the so called “reporting rules”ť that are designed “to assure that clients maintain contact with the welfare office at all times”ť in order to monitor their work and their welfare eligibility (Hays 2005:39).
In order to explain the nature of welfare reform for many American mothers, Sharon Hays represents several welfare mothers’ stories. One of them is the story of Carolyn, “a once-married Sunbelt City welfare mother”ť who had a high school diploma and who had worked almost all her adult life. However, all her life she lived in poverty. It is known that she had got several jobs during her working life. She worked as a waitress at the cafĂ© and a telephone operator at some office, a clerk at the District Attorney office and a nurse’s aide at one of the medical centers, a childcare worker, a discount store cashier and a receptionist. Carolyn told that “she went on welfare when she had her first and only child with a man she planned to marry”ť (Hays 2005:36). However, the man she loved began to abuse her during her pregnancy and once he even raped her. The reason was concluded in his drug abuse nature. Carolyn told that when she met him, he was a good man, but then he started to take drugs. She said, “I was afraid all the time”ť (Hays 2005:37).Â Carolyn moved to her sister’s house, but she lost her job.
Carolyn suffered from nervous breakdown after the rape and required medical treatment. She was hospitalized and had to go on welfare when her daughter was two months old. Carolyn returned to work by the time her child was two. She decided to work as a childcare worker and took her three nieces on the full time care. The children’s mother was in prison. Carolyn tried to work hard to avoid welfare assistance, but after a few years, she had to cope with a number of difficulties. Her brother and sister- in-law who helped her with children, left the town. Carolyn had to use the services of paid caregivers, manage with public transport and use after-school programs for her children.
However, soon she was laid off one of her numerous jobs. She was ill and had a lot of debts. She suffered from heart disorder. Carolyn had to go to the welfare office to ask for help. She could not cope with childcare, poor health and low wages. Sharon Hays states that in most cases women go on welfare because moral commitment to work is not sufficient “for the practical achievement of financial and familial stability”ť (Hays 2005:38). But, it is not connected with the loss of the work ethic.
Welfare reform makes it possible to organize supportive services when caseworkers help mothers with childcare, pay for clothing and transportation, cover such expenses as rent and utility payments. When a welfare mother gets a gob, some part of her salary will be disregarded. The system of income disregards allows the welfare mother “to receive all or part of her welfare check along with her paycheck until her income reaches the poverty line”ť (Hays 2005:38). The society’s beliefs about race, class, gender, and sexuality interact with the design and implementation of the welfare reform of 1996 as all recipients are provided with equal support.
I agree with Hays who states that our nation’s welfare laws do not offer an appropriate solution to our nation’s problems, and do not solve social problems and poverty problems in the USA. I also think that the laws and regulations of the welfare reform are rather strict. The welfare mothers are pushed into low-paying jobs which cannot provide them financial stability.