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  Summer 2009

Welfare Beat

Bikini Mums Stage Welfare Rules Protest 

Single mothers in bikinis, wetsuits and snorkels spread their beach towels outside a Melbourne welfare office. They were protesting welfare rules forcing them to spend school holidays looking for work.

The women object to harsh Welfare-to-Work changes introduced by the Howard government in 2006. They require single mothers to do work activities 52 weeks of the year--until their child is 16.

Single mother Lillian Hope said that meant children can't spend holidays with their mum.

"Most Australian families at this time would be expecting to have a nice summer holiday. But single families are not allowed summer holidays. So we're here having our party at Centrelink," she said.

Ms Hope works part-time as a court interpreter. She is also studying for a PhD in international relations. But none of this work is recognized as participation under Welfare-to-Work.

"I work in a highly skilled profession. But under Welfare-to-Work I'm not allowed to keep that job. I have to leave that job and do an unwaged Work-for-the Dole program to satisfy mandatory requirements.

       “Welfare-to-Work is not benefiting the Australian economy. It is not benefiting single mothers. And it is not benefiting our children."

Single moms must do 15 hours a week job search or unpaid workfare once their youngest child turns seven. The Australian government is currently considering changes to this unpopular Welfare-to-Work scheme.

Cash Welfare Reaches Less than Half of Eligible Families 

After twelve years of welfare deform, basic cash assistance reaches fewer families than in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. One in nine US citizens (33.8 million) now use food stamps to avoid hunger.

Only 40% of families eligible for cash assistance under TANF actually get it.  

Twice as many families eligible for AFDC received benefits during earlier recessions. The war on poverty has gone backward, not forward. (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities) 

Stingy States

Welfare grants have remained the same since the days when a loaf of bread cost a quarter. Most states keep families in dire poverty using antiquated money amounts.  In July New York finally raised their grant after 19 years—from $375 for 4 people to $413 for a family of 4. From $291 to $321 for family of 3. Big deal!! 

Stingy Feds

       While moms are having a harder time gaining cash support (TANF/SSI), affordable housing has also been drastically reduced. When Reagan began his attacks on our families in 1982, funding for HUD housing was $84 million. By 2004 it was cut down to $30 million. 


Hurray! ACLU Sues State for Violating Welfare Laws 

Since Clinton’s Welfare Deform passed in 1996, single mom families have been endangered by routine state violations of welfare laws. Although welfare-to-work changes are deadly in themselves, the states have added to the problem. 

As a result of these illegal tactics, 40% of eligible poor families get no cash welfare..

 How Do They Get Away with It?

       They get away with it because lawyers are not suing.  Private lawyers claim you can’t sue the government (“the Gov. has too much money and too many lawyers…and anyhow Legal Aid should sue for the poor.”)

Legal Services (Legal Aid) lawyers fear losing federal funds if they sue.  And they claim it is too hard to sue now that welfare (though not foodstamps) is not an "entitlement." And the ACLU has refused to sue because they are busy protecting civil rights of the non-poor oppressed (surveillance, spying, prisoners, immigrants etc). Good causes all. But who will represent the mamas and children, the sick and the dying?

A Breakthrough?? 

In July the Rhode Island ACLU sued the state of Rhode Island for failing to process foodstamp applications within the 30-day federal deadline and emergency foodstamps within 7 days.  In one out of five cases, DHS violated federal law. The class action lawsuit asked for an injunction requiring DHS to comply with the law, and immediate relief to the plaintiffs.

Welfare Giant Maximus Gets Courts to Ignore their Medicaid Fraud 

Often when a large corporation is charged with a crime, the prosecution is deferred. If the corporation behaves well during the period of the deferment, the charges will be dropped.

       In 2007, Maximus faced serious criminal Medicaid fraud charges. 35% off their claims to Medicaid for foster care services were fraudulent! They had never provided the services. Maximus agreed to repay $42.7 Million. Their lawyer, DeMaurice Smith, hammered out a deferred prosecution with a twist—no charges would be filed. The Justice Dept. agreed to defer filing charges for 24 months. If Maximus abides by the agreement, the Justice Dept. will never file charges. If Maximus engages in criminal activity in the next 2 years, the Justice Dept. can file charges. 

       Smith said this was the first deferred prosecution agreement he knew of with no filing of charges.


Ending Poverty and Building Power—Fighting for Poor People’s Rights 

In 1948 the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It stated that humans have a right to the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, education, love and the right to thrive.

            The US alone has never ratified this UN declaration. But it became a rallying cry for welfare rights and people’s organizations around the world..

Welfare benefits were an extension of New Deal-era government aid. It provided cash support to meet the basic needs of mothers and children. It recognized that raising children was crucial to our society. Welfare was seen as a safety net for families.

The welfare rights movement rose up around the civil rights and women’s movements of the mid-60s. More welfare rights organizations emerged in the 1980s--as working class jobs disappeared. Ronald Reagan began to demonize poor women as “welfare queens.” He wiped out work and marriage for AFDC moms. First he terminated work deductions for employed AFDC moms and Medicaid for employed poor moms. Then he terminated AFDC cash for kids if mom married. The media blamed moms for their poverty and labeled them as irresponsible.


Clinton Continues Attacks and Insults

            Bill Clinton escalated Reagan’s attacks with  “welfare reform’ in 1996. It had the insulting title of Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

Goals of welfare deform are to move single moms out of poverty through marriage or work.  But it never reversed Reagan’s punishments for work and marriage. Instead the Act simply reduced welfare rolls—not poverty. States moved massive numbers (40%) of people off welfare through illegal denials, sanctions, lifetime limits, and temporary jobs.

This led to a 56% increase of single mothers living in extreme poverty. At least a million single moms now have neither jobs nor benefits, zero income.

Tax the Rich or Kill the Poor 

Welfare rights organizations consist of poor people learning to fight for our rights. We develop a spirit of solidarity. We combat the stereotypes that have kept groups of the poor divided. We cross cultural barriers, not blaming others living in poverty. We equally protect the rights of parents, people with disabilities, immigrants and the unemployed.

There is now a broad movement demanding change.

       In Washington, POWER, Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights got a bill passed to require caseworkers to tell moms about education options. And DHS must provide quarterly reports about the wages they are achieving for parents.

            POWER is fighting for a state budget that does not increase hunger, homelessness and even death among struggling people. Tax the Rich or Kill the Poor is our slogan.

We want to create childcare collectives within the POWER community. We will soon be producing POWER Hour, a radio show that illustrates the realities people in poverty face every day.

The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization in Detroit has been fighting the privatization of water, which raised rates and cut off water for many low-income families. The Welfare Rights Committee in Minneapolis just successfully stopped the eviction of a family due to foreclosure 24 hours before the sheriff was due. They also help homeless people to occupy vacant foreclosed homes. LIFETIME in California fights for welfare moms’ rights to higher education.

                        We want to grow the movement toward a future where all peoples’ right to thrive is the purpose and goal of our government and communities.

From article by Jeannette Garceau in RESIST


 Contacts:  POWER in Olympia, WA. 866-343-9716; welfarerights@riseup.net

Welfare Rights Committee in Minneapolis 612-822-8020; welfarerightsmn@yahoo.com

Michigan Welfare Rights Org in Detroit: 313-964-0618; info @mwro.org

LIFETIME in Berkeley: 510-352-65160; dspatz@geds-to-phds.org


WE ARE THE LEADERS: Fighting for the Working Class 

Jan Lightfoot reports from a National Conference to Abolish Poverty, hosted by Women in Transition in Louisville, KY in July.  

The one thing I learnt was that those things essential to life--or to unlocking our human potential-- are RIGHTS.  Most of us would think someone asking us to stop breathing—so they could have more air—is crazy. The right to housing, health care, and living wages is a god-given RIGHT.  Anyone who asks us to live without such is crazy, ignorant or just plain mean..

We no longer will beg, instead we “demand” our human rights. And we will demand them NOW, not two decades later and not for only half of us.  Families need the safety of a home--to grow to the potential they were given at birth.

Women in Transition and Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) brought together activists from the US, Canada, Australia, and Korea.

Cheri Honkala of PPEHRC reminded us that we must not only get a livable wage for the USA, but for all poor countries. Otherwise, instead of America winning $17.00 an-hour jobs, our jobs will continue to go to India, Mexico, China at $1 an hour--not enough to pay their bills.

A livable wage is not a new idea.  It is merely untried. The US gives most of our money to corporations not to individuals. Withholding funds from those in need is not only repugnant and unconstitutional. It is costly.

Instead of costing “All the market will bear,” a house should cost “What is Fair.”  A home is not a profit making venture, but a place to live.

The leader from Center for Constitutional Rights, Bill Quigley, pointed out that paying people before profits is not a new idea.   The Bishops report from 1933 proposed paying workers a livable wage before the owners and shareholders took their cut. Without workers there would be no products, no profits.

Jan Lightfoot
Hospitality House

Hinkley, Maine

CONTACTS: Women in Transition: witadmin@witky.com; (502) 636-0160

PPEHRC: (612) 821-2364; info@economichumanrights.org


Stop the Barbaric Cuts 

California Welfare Rights groups, together with other activist organizations, came together to stop Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plans to balance the budget on poor people’s backs.

The activists held rallies, sit-in’s, marches, press conferences, civil disobedience, and lobbying days. They made it clear that they opposed the barbaric cuts that threatened the health of nearly one million children, the livelihood of a half million CALWORKS clients, and the lives of thousands of disabled persons and seniors. They proposed alternative cuts to big businesses.

But Schwarzenegger’s --very brave fellow--insisted on attacking the poorest of the poor (not big business), despite the tiny amount of money spent on them. 

The activists won a partial victory. Their bully gov was not able to pass the CALWORKS 2-year time limit or full family sanctions. But he did get fingerprinting and home visits for In Home Support Services (IHSS) clients and providers! (Criminalizing caregivers and the disabled.  See ADAPT’s story about being arrested by Obama’s cops for wearing their ADAPT t-shirts demanding home health care.)

The gov and legislators also passed harmful changes that will take place in 2011—no help for this budget shortfall, but hatred of the poor overrules common sense.

CALWORKS children’s grants will be reduced from $566 to $420. Moms will be booted off CALWORKS after 48 months, instead of 60. ALL CALWORKS clients will be subjected to annual “self-sufficiency” reviews. (An additional cost, not a savings. But harassing the poor wins politicians points.) And all state Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) were repealed.

As welfare rights activist Kevin Aslanian stated, “The California Legislature has been steamrolled by Governor Schwarzenegger into sacrificing poor families with children for political expediency. It is shameful, disgraceful and one of the lowest moments in the history of social welfare in California.” 

CONTACTS: California partnership/Center for Community Change

(626) 224-8189 Cell; alepe@communitychange.org

SPIN (Supportive Parents Info Network)

hchan4@gmail.com ; (510) 996-2825

CCWRO (Coalition of CA Welfare Rights Org: (916) 736-0616;



In Detroit

Four Straight Days of Resistance

From June 14-17 organizers held a PEOPLE’s Summit and tent City in Detroit to present alternative fightback program for economic recovery. It was four days of active resistance to foreclosures, evictions, mass layoffs, war and repression.

            The PEOPLE raised strategies for a Declaration of a State of Economic Emergency both statewide and federally, with a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs.

On Monday the PEOPLE marched to the Renaissance Center to confront the National Summit of CEOs and Bankers taking place. Activists let the corporations and banks know that they are responsible for the worst crisis since the Great Depression. And the people, not the bankers must provide a solution to the problems of foreclosures, plant closings, school closings and environmental degradation.

            Later that evening the youth held a Youth Concert and Rally to Stop the “War on Drugs” and Police Brutality.

On Tuesday morning people with disabilities led a disability rights march. Later, laid-off and retired autoworkers led a march to the GM Headquarters. CEO of American Axle, Richard Dauch, and ex-Governor John Engler addressed the business summit on the future of manufacturing.

Activists demanded that they Stop the Plant Closings by General Motors, Chrysler and American Axle and Enforce the Full Employment Act of 1978.

 Later that day the people discussed strategies for keeping plants open and stopping permanent lay-offs. They ended the day with a rally to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

       Throughout the summit, there were videotaped testimony and people’s speak-outs on how the crisis affected them.  And people submitted ideas for the People’s Stimulus Plan and Economic Bill of Rights.

The People's Summit was endorsed by over 40 organizations from around the US. People pitched tents at Grand Circus Park and set up literature tables there.

From the Summit Press Release:

The recent announcements that General Motors and Chrysler are utilizing the tens of billions of dollars in government funds they have just received to shut plants and lay-off tens of thousands of workers is outrageous and illegal.
       The Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 states that the federal government must use all programs and policies to promote full employment. The bosses and banks caused the current economic crisis, not the workers.  They should be axed. 
       Let the workers stay on their jobs via a short workweek to spread the work. Or let them retool the plants for modern vehicles or mass transit which is so desperately needed. 
       We need international solidarity of all workers to stop the exporting of jobs by raising living standards worldwide.

Declare a State of Emergency

The new wave of plant closings and lay-offs will deepen the economic catastrophe that is already destroying Michigan.  Governor Granholm must declare a State of Economic Emergency in Michigan pursuant to MCL 10.31. She must then use her emergency powers to place a two-year Moratorium on all Foreclosures, Evictions, and Utility Shut-offs.  Such a moratorium existed for 5 years during the last depression and was declared constitutional by the Michigan and U.S. Supreme courts.


CONTACT:  Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures & Evictions

313.671.3715; moratorium@moratorium-mi.org



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