Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies Volume 17 Number 2 Fall 2007

Improving the Safety Net for Single Mothers Who Face Serious Barriers to Work
Rebecca M. Blank

Additional Policy Issues

Although the program I have outlined highlights some of the needs of these disconnected families, it is not the only possible way to address their needs. Six additional outreach and policy efforts would reinforce existing welfare-to-work efforts and help lowincome working women escape poverty.

First, states should make greater efforts to ensure that low-income families who no longer receive TANF support will have access to the programs for which they are eligible, including food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit.

Second, states should make sure that subsidized mental health services are available to low-income persons. Increasing evidence suggests that assistance with depression is particularly important for many women struggling to be effective single parents in difficult economic circumstances.21

Third, the federal government and the states should expand health insurance programs to ensure that both adults and children in lowincome families have access to medical services. Most of the children in these families are covered by Medicaid, although many lowincome children receive no regular medical services. If they are not on TANF or SSI, many of the parents in these families are not covered by Medicaid. Programs that expand the reach of Medicaid (or other low-income health insurance programs) can provide treatment for physical and mental health problems in this population and reduce barriers to work.

Fourth, states should make sure that subsidized programs are available to deal with substance abuse problems and domestic violence.

Fifth, the federal statutes should be amended to ensure that TANF does not count individual months in which a woman on welfare meets work requirements against the overall time limit for benefits. Allowing women to work when they can, without fear that they will lose benefits because of their work, will encourage them to take jobs.

Finally, for families that are not participating in any major public assistance programs, the school system may be the best point of contact with the children. Schools can help monitor children’s health problems and work with parents to help find assistance for them. Schools can help ensure that eligible children have school breakfast and lunch services. And in worst-case situations, where parents are in serious difficulty, schools are legally required to identify children who are subject to abuse or neglect.

The Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched several demonstration projects to test programs that go beyond current welfare-to-work efforts in helping these mothers move into work. One program now being evaluated in New York City resembles the program I have proposed. The Personal Roads to Individual Development and Employment (PRIDE) program is designed as a special welfare-to-work program for people judged to be “employable with limitations.” It includes extensive assessment and a variety of medical services, as well as assistance finding part-time jobs. The preliminary findings of the evaluation are that a significant share of TANF recipients does not qualify for SSI but also does not seem appropriate for traditional welfare-towork services. PRIDE clients do increase their work levels, although the levels are still quite low and numerous clients are not able to meet their obligations and are therefore sanctioned.22 Such demonstration projects, as well as efforts within many states to serve more disadvantaged TANF populations, provide insight about the most effective ways to support and to encourage work among single mothers who have trouble maintaining stable employment.