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Seth Wessler Shares to the World again: What Happens when Great Recession meets 1996 Welfare Reform?

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Kevin Anthony Stoda
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Most Americans have known it in their hearts, but they don't really internalize the abject poverty and it relationship to daily-life-and-death struggles of real people in America--UNTIL NOW, i.e. 2010.

On Democracy Now on Friday, there was an episode where Seth Wessler reported, "Well, this really is a[n American] story about what happens when the Great Recession meets welfare reform from 1996. It's a story about what happens when people are pushed off of cash assistance by a welfare program that's intent is to push people off of cash assistance, families trying to raise their children; what people do now that even those low-wage poverty jobs, that families have been stuck in for now a decade and a half, aren't available."

Wessler, being interviewed by Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman added, "I spent the winter reporting from Hartford, Connecticut, a city that's long been hit by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and is struggling economically to figure out what families are doing now that the recession has hit and there really is no substantive safety net for poor families. And what I found was that people are forced to make very difficult decisions and are forced to trade their food assistance at bodegas for pennies on the dollar in order to make some cash to pay their bills, to pay rent, to buy, in the case of one woman I spent time with--who we're calling Eva in this story; she asked her name be changed--to buy children's shoes for her kids. So, people are forced to, in the end, break the law to get by. And what I see this as is a story about poor families innovating to survive in a horribly difficult economy after years of a stripped safety net."

Recall, America, this same Connecticut is the home of many large health insurers--so it is a very very wealthy state. However, it is clear that Connecticut has one of the strictest welfare policies in the USA--even in cities, like Harford, where many minorities are unemployed. Is this the image America wants to portray to China and other non-democratic lands around the globe? How can America project power when it is a social economic basket case?

Wessler gave a clear example in his DN interview, "Eva, the woman I spent three months with, talking to, was cut off of cash assistance last March. She's in the state, Connecticut, with the shortest time limit [for assistance] in the country. After welfare reform, states were given vast amount of power to determine how long people could stay on cash assistance, how generous the program would be. And the state set the shortest time limit of any state of the country. She was cut off of cash assistance in the middle of the worst job crisis in a generation and has been searching for work endlessly without any luck. She's a woman who's been working low-wage poverty jobs for the greater part of a decade and now can't even find one of those. She's precipitously close to the edge now of becoming homeless, of not being able to feed her kids. And she's forced to sell her food stamps, like many women who I talked to in Connecticut, in order to get by."

A German friend told me today that she had see a [German] documentary a few years ago. The documentary's title would be translated into English as follows: "Living Poor Means to Die Young in America."

This is the very clear American image that American administrations have been projecting to a globalized world since the 1970s. Since the so-called welfare reforms of the 1990s, this image has become still worse and worse. Here are the headlines across the USA this Winter 2010 that any Americanist [American Studies specialist] world wide will have picked up on. . They reflect that the states are in trouble if the whole federal welfare system is not improved immediately:

California: "More women dying from pregnancy complications; state holds on to report"

"States and Medicaid Enrollment"

"Feds reject Utah's low Medicaid pay for dentists"

"Plan to raise fees for parents of disabled children""
"Insurance Companies Prosper, Families Suffer: Our Broken Health Insurance System"

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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