The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience

Bring Back the Rainbow

February 28, 2014

Witnesses to Hunger participants from Boston trudged through the snow and slush to Boston’s City Hall and the Massachusetts State House last week to do what they do best – educate and advocate. With the Witnesses and our partners at Children’s HealthWatch, we visited with the Staff at the Mayor’s office and three state legislative offices to brief them on the daily realities for too many Boston residents.

At the State House, we talked about the cash welfare program (TANF) or Temporary Aid for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) as it is called in Massachusetts. Right now, both the Massachusetts House and Senate are debating a proposal to reform the state’s welfare system. Some of these reforms include work requirements for disabled parents, proof of job search before applying for support, and denial of public housing to immigrants. While we all want a welfare system that works in the most effective and beneficial way for Massachusetts’ residents, the experiences of the Witnesses and the research from Children’s HealthWatch raise questions and concerns about these new requirements.

“I’m ready to work – I just need my education,” says Juell. “I have a resume, I have references, I have business cards – I don’t need a work readiness program, I need to get my degree.”

Juell had been doing just that, until her caseworker informed her that her benefits were going to be cut unless she entered a program that fulfilled her work requirement. Her schoolwork for bachelor’s degree in human services at a well-known, accredited university apparently did not meet the TAFDC program’s requirements.

Juell’s story is not unique. Quanda, another Witness joining us in our Boston visits, shared her experience with TAFDC.

“I’m just one course away from my Associate’s in Child Development,” she explains. “But my caseworker told me I had to stop school in order to maintain my benefits.”  

To keep receiving assistance, Quanda quit school to follow the necessary protocol of the Massachusetts’ welfare system. In her spare time, Quanda volunteers with organizations that work on issues of poverty. She has been told by many of the organizations she volunteers with that if she had her degree, she would be eligible for a paid position.

“But how can I go to school? I need to provide for my kids. My kids come first.”  The cash assistance offered through TAFDC helped her provide for her kids while she was in school, serving as her main source of income. With threats to that support, she had no choice but to drop out to continue to receive the aid she needs for her two young children.

Quanda sums up her struggles with the welfare system like this – “I could see the rainbow, but now there are clouds again.”

Adding more work requirements, and less incentives to go to school to earn college degrees and increase skills, confidence and ultimately wages, will only keep the clouds hovering over so many families in Massachusetts.

 

-- Lili Dodderidge

 

Media Request Form