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The Implementation of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act (Welfare Reform) Essay


Values of the legislation

The Welfare Reform is hailed as being a great success probably because this legislation resulted in a very remarkable decrease in the number of welfare rolls. It’s estimated to have reduced the enrollment from 4.4 million when the legislation was instituted in 1996 to 2.1 million at the end of 2001.

However, according to Hays, the success reports did not address the plight of mothers and caseworkers who actually experienced the legislation impact. In her book, Flat Broke, With Children, she explains thorough a story the impact of the Welfare Reform by describing the challenges that the welfare recipient had to endure to manage their family issues, their work issues and deal with the laws set by the Welfare Reform.

The legislation was based on “family values” as they were (Hays 3). Hays points out that a nation’s laws are a clear reflection of the nation’s values and this is what forms the central dogma of discussion in her book.

The Welfare Reform Act which was passed during the Clinton administration helped reduce the welfare enrollment by over 50% but it pushed many families to the dead-end employment and not having not stable jobs. On the other hand, the Welfare Reform encouraged women to marry as emphasis on family values (Hays 3); they then got married to men who could not even support a family.

This vividly shows that the government is communicating contradicting messages through its unbending bureaucracies pulling the women on welfare and even those with well-intended cases in opposing directions.

From the stories given by Hays, it’s evident that the Welfare Reform did very little to address issues like sexual abuse, homelessness, poverty, disintegrated families and the extent to which women had to go through juggling through numerous part-time low-paying work, other than expressing themselves as victims.

From the emphasis of family values, it is quite clear that the statute implies that the welfare beneficiaries are lazy and egocentric swindlers without work ethics of family values, this is not the case.

To imply that the reason why the women cannot pay for their families’ needs was because they did not want to work, to get into marriage and bring up happy and healthy families was wrong and uncouth. These women are in essence burdened by real social problems like being uneducated and lacking supportive and financially stable partners plus the expensive yet unreliable childcare services.

Work Plan and Family Plan

According to Hays, the Welfare Reform is both cultural and social reflection of the society. She analyses what the welfare says about American values but the message communicated by the actual situation on the ground is confusing.

The welfare laws emphasize commitment to family values like encouraging marriage and punishing childbearing out of wedlock yet they again imply that poor people lack work ethic and are lazy and hence push single mothers to do even odd jobs to fend for themselves. One can get pushed for not doing enough to find a job and also for losing one because of flimsy reasons some like taking off to attend to an abused child.

Hays has named these two competing ides as workplace and family plan terming them and major competing ideas of the Welfare Reform. The work plan is where the reform has put in place some requirements intended to rehabilitate women by ‘moving them out of the home’ to full-fledged workers.

The “work plan” demands that mother become independent and self-reliant and to take part in paid work as one of the means to reduce welfare dependence.

The “family plan” on the other hand is set to punishing mothers through hard lesson of experiencing hardship for failing to observe the convention social responsibility by getting children outside marriage. This plan implicitly says that being married was another way of getting away from dependence on welfare.

The two plans reflect the nation’s values as Hays puts it and they are conflicting and competing at the same time (Hays 3). However, the reform has been widely accepted despite this because the competing values seem to satisfy two different institutions.

However, practically, the two objectives are counterproductive. The welfare offices are working seriously on the work plan with women required to move with speed to find even miserable jobs to get off the welfare while the government spends even more money on their children’s daycare than the mothers ears on minimum wage job.

It’s like mothers are being paid to leave their children at the daycares, contrary to family values, right? The family plan on the other hand is not doing any better because it has its own share of problems.

The men that these women get married to seem to be getting in and out of their lives having fathered even more children, becoming irresponsible, abusive and unengaged. To that extent, it seems futile to try and control things.

Because of these similar contradictions in the Welfare Reform, Hays drew conclusions that the nation’s welfare law had failed to offer a single, logical resolution to solve the nation’s social problems and did not put in more effort that seem to be solving the problems and reduce poverty (Hays 13).

The Nature of Eligibility Rules

Superficially, the manner of governing the Welfare Reform appears to be a straightforward matter. However, a close analysis shows that the recipients are divided into two major groups; the first is the group of ‘most employable’ women and the second category is for the ‘most encumbered’.

Accordingly, the group termed as the most employable are removed from the poverty assistance because the eligibility rules that are currently structured after the reform (Hays 16).

These citizens are forced to fend for themselves on meager wages and become self-reliant. The idea of expulsion from the beneficiaries of welfare has been debated with the neoliberal Welfare Reformers supporting it, because the employable women no longer bother the state for welfare.

A closer look at the real structure of the Welfare Reform law, however, there is a different picture all together. To be sure, a very big number of families had already been scrapped of the list of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) (Hays 63).

This is basically the reason why the number of the people on welfare dropped drastically and even during the 2000 economic recession period the numbers remained low. Nonetheless, the program eligibility rules have not been improved and they remain intricate in nature and somehow harsh.

There are some that are simple to understand like the workfare and the time limits while other rules are never even discussed in public. Based on their very design, there are some measures that force single mothers to adhere to a one-size-fits-all patriarchal family system (Hays 63).

Rules like those implemented under the compulsory paternity credentials for children and the child support cooperation laws, the poor single mothers are required to give the names of the biological fathers of their children and play active roles in assisting the government to collect support payment from the fathers (Hays 63).

Practically, these rules, at times referred to as ‘paternafare’ compel TANF women to involve in very difficult and enduring demands for them to get paid, this is demeaning.

Sometimes even when the recipient has been able to meet all the program requirements, the exact structure, the paternafare laws develop a situation where the father continues paying the money to the program even after quitting the program.

These eligibility rules are intrusive as the recipients have to sacrifice vocational freedom, reproductive options, sexual privacy and even the right of making intimate decisions of how to bring up a family (Hays 67). Naturally, these right are selfishly protected by the constitution as they are key to the supreme court’s jurisprudence of personhood and family, this does not apply to these mothers in need!

The Individual Welfare Mothers’ Stories

The work by Sharon Hays is impressive and gives insightful stories of women who have to conform to the eligibility rules, observe time limit and avoid being sanctions to benefit from welfare.

Her information is quite clear to understand as she has provided a number of evaluations against actual experiences with people she interviewed of met in the welfare offices (Hays 67). These results are very crucial in analysis the Welfare Reform and its logic as well as assessing the purported long-term goals and the actual consequences of implementing the statute.

Hays does not shy from explaining the actual experiences she observed. One of the significant stories is that of Nadia. Nadia was simple woman having four children and she was entitled to receive welfare money. Nadia had quit her job because the pay was too low to meet her daily demands and the job was too hard for her.

She could not hold up and she had to resign after realizing that her situation was not improving at all under that job. There is also the story of Joy (Hays 163). Joy was a drug addict. Her condition was so touching, she had previously had four abortions and she was having two children.

Monica is a young woman who was also facing the Welfare Reform challenges and she openly admits that she deliberately got pregnant to have child so that she could use him to gain eligibility for collecting welfare money. Sandra on the other hand aggressively demands to be paid looking at it as her right to get welfare (Hays 163).

It seems that Nadia realizes that she is of very little value in the incumbent labor market but also appreciates her value as a mother and insists that taking care of her children was work enough that she should be paid for it and she hence receives TANF. This way, she has passed a message to the Welfare Reform about morality.

Works Cited

Hays, Sharon. Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2003. Print

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IvyPanda. "The Implementation of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act (Welfare Reform)." December 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-implementation-of-the-1996-personal-responsibility-and-work-reconciliation-act-welfare-reform-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Implementation of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act (Welfare Reform)." December 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-implementation-of-the-1996-personal-responsibility-and-work-reconciliation-act-welfare-reform-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Implementation of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act (Welfare Reform)'. 14 December.

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