TANF/AFDC Hell: Commercialized Social Services

by Richard Hiatt

TANF: boy with trouble in mind
TANF trouble © Per Tillmann – Fotolia.com All rights reserved.

In Washingtons’ furious exchange of credit and fast deals it’s just
as quick to toss out its kids as it is a vetoed bill or last night’s garbage.
Children, like art and homosexuals, are frivolous legislative pursuits
that don’t enhance corporate ledgers or comply with the rules of minimum

Consider the facts: Although family preservationists stepped in to “save”
families from orphanages in 1909 (as TANF now tries to do) legislation
has been mostly about big money and disposable children – the former being
upscaled, the latter being suited up for orphanages.

Unskilled, low income families
are being forced to self-destruct by being pushed to the fringes. This guarantees poverty, which according to Rene
Pico of the Women’s Economic Agenda Program is the most important contributing factor
to the breakup of families. One in four children in America now live in poverty. And
though “neglect is a code word for poverty,” to social workers
poverty is a code word for “neglect.” And “neglect”
to the Department of Social Services is the trigger word for litigating
hell ever after.

Once kids are taken into “protective custody” the experience
is like a black hole; what goes in never comes out. Kids average four to
five foster placements before the age of 12, and the saying goes, if he’s
in the system over a year he’s “gone forever.” He ends up either
with a juvenile record or a psychiatric record. By eighteen most go straight
to homelessness.

Parents (including those with no charges against them and whose only
crime was to get into the system in the first place) must comply with a
“reunification plan.” This is like a POW signing a paper saying
he “conspired to kill the emperor” just to get rations – a forced
presumption of guilt. Twelve months are given to comply with conditions
set by the court (job, stable home, counseling, etc.) the failure of any
which only doubles that presumption. All the while aid is “suspended”
upon which food and housing depended in the first place.

“Incompetent” caseworkers aside (another can of worms), Renny
Golden (author of Disposable Children: America’s Child Welfare System)
cites a University of Chicago study which interviewed 59 children in foster
care. It revealed that “40% were confused as to why they were in foster
care, 61% were told little as to why they were in foster care, 60% had
no involvement in the decision to be put in foster care, one-third didn’t
even know why they had a caseworker, 41% didn’t know why they were in counseling,
and all but five … said the way they were removed from their homes was
humiliating” (i.e., by force, without warning).

A more encompassing dilemma: Since 1969 child poverty has risen 50%
while the GNP has increased 50% in that same time frame. That means poorer
parents are working harder in a wealthier but illiterate country (paranoid,
litigious) and forced to stricter standards just to avoid that dreaded
“n” word (neglect).

Ms. Golden in an interview for the National Radio Project said the US has “the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation in the world,” a [child] suicide rate “double that of any industrialized nation in the world,” and an infant mortality that ranks with Ireland and Romania. “A child born in the shadows of the White House has less of a chance of survival than a child born in Haiti. And so here we’re giving 53% of our budget to the military and a scant four to two percent to social welfare programs which we’re now dismantling. It can be considered a war on children.”

Lawmakers blame poor women (and men) for “burdening” taxpayers
by having more kids just to receive more aid. But they won’t tell you
that the same parent receives only an additional $125/month – far less
than a foster-care family gets ($850/month) or an orphanage ($1000/month).
Hardly an incentive.

From a distance one can see a scheme for social engineering at high
levels to destabilize families and encourage takeovers. This fits into
a more sinister trend – the shifting of money to more laws, jails, and
orphanages simply for profit. The wealthy may take the view that putting
welfare money in the hands of ungrateful rabble only wastes it: on idle
pleasures and foolish toys – pickup trucks, tract houses, discount stores
– more babies.

According to Barbara Ehrenreich in an article for Harpers
(August, 1997), a conference was held in March of that year in
Washington on “welfare privatization.”
The Park Hyatt is a setting “where the affluent gather discreetly
over topics of mutual interest.” Its theme: “Capitalize on the
massive growth potential of the new world of welfare reform / Gain a leading
edge in the market while it is in its early stage / Profit from the opportunities

The conference involved such powerful industries as Lockheed Martin,
Electronic Data Systems, Andersen Consulting and Unisys. Lockheeds senior
v.p., Holli Ploog, said, “We’re approaching this marketplace the way
we approach all other marketplaces” (New York Times). And $28 billion/year
is an easy price tag (what government now spends for welfare) considering
that companies face drastic cuts in the defense industry . The World Research
Group (who held the conference) puts welfare in the same category as “airport
management,” “hotel contracting” or “sports/music.”
There is apparently a total indifference of the topic du jour with which
to glean profit potential.

Right now privatization is a favorite theme particularly with regard
to prisons. Last December’s conference brochure stated, “”while
arrests and convictions are steadily on the rise, profits are to be made
– profits from crime. Get in on the ground floor of this booming industry

Jails are already privatized thus capitalizing on crime (no different
than the gun or drug industries) and, as Pico says, promoting “free
labor” while taxpayers still pay $40,000/yr. per inmate. Likewise,
orphanages just happen to be the next way companies can invest in “parenting”
by translating children into the language of market goods and services,
supply and demand. It’s about planning a harvest of low-wage workers among
those who won’t make it in a high-tech world, being pushed to poverty,
and who themselves will probably commit some form of “neglect”
down the line.

As Lewis Lapham of Harpers once said, “the comfort of the rich
rests on an abundant supply of the poor,” what Leona Helmsley called
“the little people” – people to clean toilets, carry golf bags,
mow lawns, shine shoes, and then disappear to their respective “bedroom
communities” at day’s end.

If the disbursement of the national treasury is any measure of conduct,
America truly does hate its children.