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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

Summary

Rebecca Blank explores a weakness of the welfare reforms of the mid-1990s—the failure of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program to address the plight of so-called “hard to employ” single mothers and their children. TANF has moved many women on the welfare caseload into work, but the services it provides are not intensive or flexible enough to meet the needs of women with multiple disadvantages who find it difficult to get and keep full-time employment.

Blank notes that many of these women have lost welfare benefits because of their failure to find work. Increasingly, studies show that the number of single mothers who are neither working nor on welfare has grown significantly over the past ten years. Such “disconnected” women now make up 20 to 25 percent of all low-income single mothers, and reported income in these families is extremely low. Disconnected women are likely to report multiple and serious barriers to work, including low education, learning disabilities, health problems, or a history of domestic violence or substance abuse. Counting both longer-term welfare recipients and women who are neither working nor on welfare, Blank estimates that about 2.2 million women who head families are not able to find jobs or, if they do, cannot keep them. And almost 4 million children are in the care of these severely challenged single mothers.

Blank proposes a Temporary and Partial Work Waiver Program to provide more effective employment assistance and other supports for these women and their children. The program she proposes would recognize that some women might be able to work only part-time or be temporarily unable to work. It would supplement their earnings while also offering referral to services that both address their own work barriers and provide help for their children. The support, however, would be temporary. Women would be regularly reassessed for their readiness to return to work or work more hours. Such a program, Blank notes, would require intensive case management. Estimating the cost of such a program is difficult, she explains, because costs would depend heavily on the number of women who participate. But she offers a rough estimate of $2.8 billion, some of which is already being spent as part of the current TANF program.