Felicia Kornbluh is associate professor of history and gender, sexuality and women’s studies at the University of Vermont and president of the faculty union, United Academics. She’s author of "The Battle for Welfare Rights" and, with Gwendolyn Mink, of the forthcoming "Ensuring Poverty: The History and Politics of Welfare Reform".
April McCray thought she had finally caught a break in late 2005. That’s when the state of Louisiana granted cash assistance to the single mother through the Temporary Assistance of Needy Families (TANF) program. It was her first experience with America's welfare program. McCray, who had been in and out of work, struggled to make ends meet. This, she hoped, would at least help soften the
burden. But a month later, the state stripped her of the benefits without a clear explanation, she said. Since then, she says Louisiana, which controls state and federally allocated TANF dollars, has denied her requests for assistance several times. "It gets depressing," said McCray, who in 2016, is still struggling. With three kids and rarely more than a part-time job, she says she needs help she can’t seem to get from a welfare system that was overhauled 20 years ago. “As far as whether people are better off, I do think they are, in some cases, worse off.”
Twenty years ago on August 22, then President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, that imposed work requirements and term limits on public assistance into effect and people like April McCray across the country have been left destitute.
Now, while there are advocates who in the wake of the shredding of the social safety net, such as in New York are demanding an end to the Work Experience Program (WEP), increased allowances to reflect the cost of living, and more humane treatment at public assistance centers, for the millions of poor, predominantly woman and children across the nation like April McCray they’re left to wonder why across the spectrum those seeking electoral office and with a national platform have failed to meaningfully address poverty and put together a platform to reverse twenty-years of