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War on poor women and children.

When the Republican party swept through the November Congressional elections, House Majority leader Newt Gingrich vowed to enact the Republican "Contract With America." Legislation includes the Personal Responsibility Act, a bill which would prohibit mothers under the age of 18 from receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (A.F.D.C.) or housing payments for children born out of wedlock; states would have the option of extending that prohibition to mothers ages 18 to 20. Some Republican congressmen are even talking about prohibiting A.F.D.C. to unwed mothers under 26 years of age. Moreover, House Republicans will propose in January to set an overall limit on welfare spending, replace food stamps and child nutrition programs (such as W.I.C.) with a lump-sum payment to each state. The states, many with punitive welfare policies, will then create their own public assistance programs.

This proposed legislation, which will undoubtedly lead to a dramatic increase in child hunger. is based on several myths: * Young women have children out of wedlock primarily to receive A.F.D.C. and must be punished and resocializcd to make them more "responsible." * Women receiving welfare have numerous children in order to increase their benefits. * Welfare recipients receive ample benefits that enable them to live comfortably. * Recipients lack a work ethic and resist joining the paid labor force. * The majority of A.F.D.C. recipients are inadequate parents engaged in self-destructive behavior harmful to themselves and to their children.

The facts, however, point to a much different reality: * The vast majority of A.F.D.C. recipients are children whose average age in 1993 was 7.4 years; they will be the ones most harmed by the proposal. * Over four-fifths of teenage pregnancies are unintended. * The average number of children in families on welfare is two. * From 1975 to 1994 the average A.F.D.C. benefit per family, measured in constant dollars, dropped by 3 7%; in no state do welfare benefits plus food stamps bring recipient families up to the poverty level. * 71% of adult A.F.D.C. recipients have recent work histories, and almost half the families who leave welfare do so to work.

Perhaps an even more frightening aspect of the Personal Responsibility Act is its call for orphanages, funded by money saved from cutbacks in A.F.D.C. and W.I.C. Any unwed mother who receives assistance from welfare, A.F.D.C. or W.I.C. and who "refuses" to work would have her child taken away to an orphanage. The rally for orphanages is not about protecting children from abusive or neglectful parents, but rather about punishing young, poor, unwed mothers.

The average family on public assistance receives $500 a month, including benefits. The average orphanage costs around $100 a day per child. If even one quarter of the approximately 9 million children now on A.F.D.C. ended up in orphanages as a result of welfare cutbacks and denials, the price tag would be astronomical - at $50,000 per child, some $112.5 billion a year - much more than A.F.D.C. itself, which currently costs $22.3 billion a year. Moreover, this cost does not include the cost of buying, building or renovating institutional housing, and starting a whole new bureaucracy to oversee operations.

More importantly, orphanages go against everything we know about what children need: intimate attachments, individual attention, love. -- from Ruth Sidel, "The Welfare Scam," and Katha Pollitt, "Subject to Debate," The Nation, December 12, 1994.
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Title Annotation:adapted from the Nation, December 12, 1994
Publication:Special Delivery
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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