Jason DeParle on mothers and their children

“Welfare reform” was all about mothers and their children.

It was mothers and their children — only mothers and their children — who received the assistance that was “reformed” and restricted. And it was those mothers and their children who were left helpless when the recession hit.

Jason DeParle had a must-read report on those mothers and their children in Sunday’s New York Times,Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit.” I’ve excerpted a few select quotes from that article below the jump. And, for comparison’s sake, I’ve interspersed some recent quotes from our friend Rick Warren.


Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. …

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow.

Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said.

Maria Thomas, 29, with four daughters, helps friends sell piles of brand-name clothes, taking pains not to ask if they are stolen. “I don’t know where they come from,” she said. “I’m just helping get rid of them.”

To keep her lights on, Rosa Pena, 24, sold the groceries she bought with food stamps and then kept her children fed with school lunches and help from neighbors. Her post-welfare credo is widely shared: “I’ll do what I have to do.”


Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.


While data on the very poor is limited and subject to challenge, recent studies have found that as many as one in every four low-income single mothers is jobless and without cash aid — roughly four million women and children. Many of the mothers have problems like addiction or depression, which can make assisting them politically unpopular, and they have received little attention in a downturn that has produced an outpouring of concern for the middle class.

Poor families can turn to other programs, like food stamps or Medicaid, or rely on family and charity. But the absence of a steady source of cash, however modest, can bring new instability to troubled lives.


When you subsidize people, you create the dependency.  You — you rob them of dignity.


Among the Arizonans who lost their checks was Tamika Shelby, who first sought cash aid at 29 after fast-food jobs and a stint as a waitress in a Phoenix strip club. The state gave her $176 a month and sent her to work part time at a food bank. Though she was effectively working for $2 an hour, she scarcely missed a day in more than a year.

… Then the reduced time limit left Ms. Shelby with neither welfare nor work. She still gets about $250 a month in food stamps for herself and her 3-year-old son, Dejon. She counts herself fortunate, she said, because a male friend lets her stay in a spare room, with no expectations of sex. Still, after feeding her roommate and her child, she said, “there are plenty of days I don’t eat.”

… “If I could, I’d still be working for those two dollars an hour.”


The Church has helped the poor far more than any govt, & for 2000 yrs longer!


The mother, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, could not get aid for herself but received $164 a month for her four American-born children until their time limit expired. Distraught at losing her only steady source of cash, she asked the children if they would be ashamed to help her collect discarded cans.

“I told her I would be embarrassed to steal from someone — not to pick up cans,” her teenage daughter said.

Weekly park patrols ensued, and recycling money replaced about half of the welfare check.


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  • EllieMurasaki

    Warren is a despicable excuse for a human being. And massively ignorant to boot. (Which is the charitable interpretation.)

  • Michael Pullmann

    So, how you you think Warren will react when Christ says to him, “Depart from me; I never knew you”?

  • PollyAmory

    Isn’t having “a reaction” predicated on having actual feelings? 

  • histrogeek

    This is another of those “no one [who isn’t a tool] could have anticipated this” moments. So why is a guillotine on the Mall for the courtier class a bad idea? I seem to have forgotten.

  • JessicaR

    I wish people like Warren could understand or just admit what hard work it is to be poor. That it’s not lounging by your Orange County pool jotting down notes for your next sermon on bootstraps on your Blackberry.

    That it’s skipping meals, and hoping a couch to crash on comes without the strings attached of sex with the couch owner for the “treat”, it’s double checking to make sure you got every possible Miller Lite and Moutain Dew can out of a bramble covered, mucky water filled ditch by the side of the road.

    It’s pretending you don’t notice how agonizingly tight your shoes are, or stuffing newspaper in shoes two sizes too big. It’s constantly being smart and on the hustle for opportunities to keep the lights on and maybe treat your daughter to a new box of crayons, maybe.

    It’s finally being deseprate enough to pocket a cannister of forumla and hope like hell nobody saw. And that it’s also swallowing your pride, and pretending that the lukewarm paper plate of food the MegaChurch hands out once or twice a year takes care of everything.

    It’s pretending that you don’t want to smack the smug, self-righteous expressions off God’s Gentle People who think donating boxes of expired bread machine mix and cans of olives to the Food Pantry counts as charity.

  • There but for the grace of God go I, is all I can say. :(

  • rizzo

    “I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.”
    I, too, believe in magic.

  • LL

    The problem with aid recipients is, they’re not asking for enough. See, participants in TARP got over $400 billion. And the government can’t brag enough times about how it’s got almost all our money back, supposedly all but $60 billion of it. I don’t know what Warren’s position is on welfare to the financial sector, but something tells me he had no problem with it. In fact, I Googled “Rick Warren TARP” and got a single result (that mentioned his book, no quote from him about how giving money to bankers is an insult to them). But Googling “Rick Warren welfare” got all kinds of results about how awful it is for poor people to get government money.

    Also, aid recipients should probably point out that the money they get doesn’t go to pay CEOs and others cushy bonuses, it goes back into the community in the form of sales (and the taxes on those sales). So it’s not like they’re plowing it into off-shore accounts. They’re using it the way it’s intended to be used, and also helping others at the same time. 

    Aid recipients just have really crappy PR, is what I’m saying. Too bad there’s not a Super PAC for them. 

  • Lori


    Isn’t having “a reaction” predicated on having actual feelings? 

    Oh, I’m pretty sure Warren has actual feelings about himself and what happens to him. Other people obviously not so much.

  • Anton_Mates

    Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does
    fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of

    You present a cake to your family.  Is it fairer to:

    a) give everybody a slice of the same size, or
    b) make everybody fight with broadswords, so they all have the opportunity to win the entire cake for themselves?

    Dessert must be hell in the Warren household.

  • carovee

    My SO refuses to participate in food drives for this reason. He points out that the collective money used to buy those goods would go much farther if the food shelves could a)buy what the needed, b) in bulk.

  • Lori

    Warren could not possibly present a cake to his family. Rick eats the entire cake and good luck to the rest of them. To do otherwise would deny them the dignity of getting their own dessert.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Look, if God wanted those children to eat, He’d have gotten them born into wealthy families.

  • Robyrt

    It seems that the people in this predicament are almost exclusively single mothers in states where the limits have been sharply cut back (2 years!) during a recession. The system seems to have been working pretty well, right up until there was a big incentive for the states to stop spending money on welfare and they jumped at the chance. There’s also the problem that many of our poverty programs are calibrated for nuclear families, not an unemployed single mother with four children, or an illegal immigrant with four children.

  • christopher_young

     The problem with aid recipients is, they’re not asking for enough.

    There are other ways of asking for more. “Liberty, equality and fraternity!” springs to mind. Also, “Bread, Peace and Land!”.

  • Katie

     I understand his point, but I also see this as letting the best be the enemy of the good.  Of course, in my opinion, the biggest problem with food drives is that people tend to donate lots of cheap food, and/or clear their pantries of odd items.  Personally, when I donate food, I try to pick things that I think someone else would enjoy eating.

  • When a woman is forced to go back to an abusive partner because her welfare was cut, that’s a win for Rick Warren. That’s exactly what he wanted to happen. His ilk want women to stay with abusive men no matter what. That’s what their morality is. 

    My grandmother was abused by her husband. My father remembers hiding behind the couch while his father “beat the living shit out of”* his mother, waiting for the police to come. They had money — his father was a designer at GM — but my grandmother finally said screw the money, she was going to “kick that bastard out.”** She was on welfare for a while. Welfare gave her and her two sons dignity by allowing them not to depend on an abusive drunk any longer. They did go to church too (Lutheran), and the people at church helped her out occasionally, mostly with babysitting. One church couldn’t do what welfare did for her though.

    She got a job as a janitor eventually (though she was an engineer, awarded for being such during WWII, but fired after WWII for being a woman), and both her sons went to college. She couldn’t have paid for their college education; loans, grants, and scholarships did. Not private, government. And now they are both upper-middle class, paying taxes, living in nice houses, going on vacations. All thanks to government assistance their mother got decades ago. 

    My grandmother had more dignity in her pinkie toe than Rick Warren could ever dream of having in his entire body through his entire life, is what I’m saying.

    *his quote
    **her quote

  • Related, since we’re discussing social mores: http://imgur.com/gallery/umUZK

  • As a poor person on food stamps, I would ask you to ask your SO to reconsider. We do not live in a perfect world, and refusing to do something imperfect because something else might be a better alternative doesn’t help anyone. You can give to food drives and advocate for systemic change at the same time. It’s like giving money to a homeless person; that doesn’t prevent you from giving to groups that feed lots of homeless people at once, or being politically involved to try to keep anyone from being homeless. 

    The annual holiday food drives at our local grocery store buy poor families turkey and ham dinners. The stuff is from the store — not the very priciest, but not the cheapest either, the kind of things most people buy for their own families for holidays when they can afford to. It is a particularly good grocery store chain, but I think that kind of thing is pretty common, isn’t it? Donate $1, help a family have a particularly nice meal. Maybe the money would go further on bulk cheap items, but expecting the poor to subsist on rice and beans all the time is pretty sad.

  • LouisDoench

     That’s what its gonna be like at my household from now on!

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Once upon a time, beans would have come as a blessing. I remember when breakfast, lunch and dinner were variations of how we could make rice or instant ramen. More than once, dinner was rice with salt. The DHS kindly informed me that not having a job or car was no excuse to not make a meeting they scheduled for Christmas Eve in a city 40 miles from where I lived, despite having made budget cuts that almost doubled the bus fare, so they denied me both financial aid and food stamps.

    Yeah. We poor have it so great already. So much dignity, so many opportunities. We could definitely afford to be taken down off our high horses.

  • LouisDoench


  • B

    I know I’ve seen it suggested that (as with most forms of charity, actually) giving money to the food bank directly is generally more efficient than buying food to give to them:  Because they’re making bulk purchases and because companies sometimes give them reduced prices as a form of charitable giving, the food bank can get the food for less than you can, and they know what they need better than you do.

    Of course, I read it on the Internet, so YMMV and all.

  • I was just told in an earlier thread here, in which fewer people are posting, that I should found a charity to get me the operation I need to be able to work.

    That I haven’t done that shows that the constant debilitating pain I’m in makes me lazy I guess.

  • arcseconds

    This ‘everyone gets the same amount’ thing is a complete red-herring, not to mention scare-mongering and red-baiting.  There are people who argue for it, yes, but it’s a very small number of people, and it has virtually no political currency anywhere in the developed world, as far as I know.  Even ardent socialists (real socialists, who believe in workers owning the means of production, not Democrats or today’s Labour parties) don’t (necessarily) believe this.  Saying such a thing implies your immediate political opponents are for this, which clearly they are not.  It would be a stupid thing to say, except for the fact that it helps people to believe that Obama is a communist.

    As far as ‘equal opportunity to earn the same amount’ goes, you need to be living in lala-land to believe that someone who’s sick with two dependent children who has to spend every available hour collecting cans in order to buy food has the same opportunity to earn money as someone who went to a flash university, had health insurance, and their first summer job all provided by their parents (plus opportunities and contacts spun off from those things).

  • ako

     Does he give money instead of food, or just not give?  Because giving money instead of food makes sense if you can do it, but food is better than nothing.  (I know that giving money is easier for me because then I don’t have to buy extras or carry stuff around, so I was happy to hear that donating money was encouraged.)

  • purpleshoes

     Another potentially useful thing to do for someone who has a car is offer to volunteer as a driver who goes to area stores and picks up discarded goods. For instance, Panera’s is infamous for throwing out all of their bread every single day – they seriously fill a dumpster with bread at almost every location. Some Paneras will donate the bread to a soup kitchen/food pantry if someone shows up to ask for it.

  • B

    Well, I don’t think that’s surprising: bread that doesn’t have a lot of preservatives in it drops off in quality very fast.  Obviously giving it to the soup kitchen is better than throwing it out, but they can’t really sell it the next day.

    (I mean, it depends on the ingredients: bread with fat in it keeps longer. But crusty loaves are best the day they’re made.)

  • hapax

    Personally, when I donate food, I try to pick things that I think someone else would enjoy eating.

    I like to donate “birthday parties in a bag” — cake mix, frosting, a couple of bags of candy, small toys, that sort of thing, that people on a small income probably couldn’t justify buying.

    The homeless shelter gets coffee, bread, peanut butter, and those packs of assorted small one-serving breakfast cereals.   I’m told that the latter can be used as “street currency” for those who prefer not to eat them.

  • One thing to think about, folks?

    Food banks in Canada didn’t exist before 1982.


    Because before then, the welfare state was actually strong enough to not need these stopgap measures. Even the 1982 recession, which pushed our unemployment rate to somewhere around 15%, was expected to be over and the food bank people expected the need to diminish.

    It did not, as evidenced by what Brian Mulroney and Michael Wilson ended up doing by the late 1980s, along with long-term structural changes in the Canadian economy that caused wage stagnation.

    1973 is often termed a watershed year for the USA in terms of economic slowdown and wage stagnation. 1981 is the analogous year for Canada, and it can be traced to the beginnings of the adoption of permanently higher real interest rates than pre-1981 levels.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    The last time I heard of a person managing to get a charity event going to raise the price for a lifesaving operation, the American Cancer Society raised the price of her operation on the grounds that “charity events are a job, ma’am, so you’re not eligible for special treatment anymore.” So even if you did, it might turn right around and bite you in the ass.

    They want us dead, or at least so demoralized and miserable that we no longer resist when they take away what rights we have. Ten to one odds, as soon as they figure out how to turn burnt corpses into a more efficient energy source, the law of lawful burial will disappear like yesterday’s garbage and the bodies of the lower class will be transported directly from the slums and dismal workplaces to an incinerator. Why not? Corporations are already willing to profit directly from our deaths, so why not from the deaths of the unemployed, too?

  • Chris

    It’s heartening to know that Rick Warren can love God despite His flaws of wanting to help the poor and make the world more just. 

  • And even if I could start a charity just for me, myself and I (I can’t), I would feel bad about doing so when so many people need operations they can’t afford to save their lives. I need one to stop being in terrible pain, and to be able to do stuff like leave the house without making the pain worse, and to work or at least be able to help do housework, and my doctor is worried I might lose the use of one of my feet, but I won’t die without it. And I have a roof over my head. I’m dependent on my parents (I absolutely hate that) and fiance, but none of them are abusive. 

    If I did get the operation, I would be able to work and have the “dignity” of supporting myself, and paying taxes, and donating to charity (I hate not being able to do that any more), but it would somehow not be “dignified” to get that operation by having anyone else pay for it. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be “dignified” about constant, horrible pain, and depending on painkillers just to get through each day, and family members to pay rent, but whatever.

  • hidden_urchin

    I was just told in an earlier thread here, in which fewer people are posting, that I should found a charity to get me the operation I need to be able to work.

    So, apparently, having the government pay for you to have necessary, life-changing medical care would strip you of your dignity but begging for money via charity would not. 

    That’s just frakked up.

  •  Me too.  I specifically go to the store and buy staples.  Perhaps someone (perhaps me?) should write a “how to donate to a food pantry/drive” post like Sarah from “half-heard, half-heard” wrote about donating to clothing drives.  Also, people don’t know that although food banks really don’t want fresh produce during drives (for obvious reasons), a lot of them will readily accept it right at the organization’s building.  Our local food bank has a table at the farmers’ market and I frequently buy another bag of apples or a bunch of tomatoes to donate.

  • P J Evans

    Ah, the troll. Which clearly lives its own little world, where reality never actually intrudes. I’m sorry it showed up and was hassling you.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I was just told in an earlier thread here, in which fewer people are posting, that I should found a charity to get me the operation I need to be able to work.

    I hope you’re a cute little girl or a puppy.

  •  It’s kind of a vicious cycle. People who are most in the need of that kind of direct aid are least able to lobby for it. If people on welfare had the clout they would need to get even a tiny fraction of what the TARP recipients received as a reward for being bad at their jobs, they wouldn’t need to be on welfare in the first place. It’s like a sicker version of the old joke about how banks will only lend money to people who can prove they don’t need it.

  • Dan Audy

    My local grocery store has $5, $10, and $20 dollar bags of a variety of (nutritionally balanced and relatively decent) non-branded non-perishable foods near the checkout.  The primary purpose is to allow people to buy it and drop it in a donation bin by the door, though I’ve taken them home when my budget has been tight.  What is really nice though, is that they actually total up the stuff in the donation bin and put the bags back on the shelf and give the food bank that much money in credit which they use to buy anything the store stocks at wholesale price and lets them round out their pantry with whatever is lacking from donation.

    It combines a bit of the best of letting people donate something physical but lets the food bank get what they really need.

  • Thinking of my own past situations, where I was super poor and struggling, this post doesn’t even dig into those that fall through the cracks: people with food allergies and/or intolerances. 

    Take for example gluten intolerances, especially those with Celiac disease.  Gluten free food are ridiculously and disgustingly expensive.  I read labels constantly for I have a gluten intolerance and a cheese allergy – double whammy – in a desperate effort to try to find a cheap way to eat. It’s a horribly struggle, and this side of the issue isn’t really discussed much when it comes to helping the poor.  Those food drives? They focus on food that the majority could eat, but when I was poor and nearly homeless I couldn’t eat anything from a food drive or a soup kitchen because if I did I’d be sick and worse off than just not eating.

    Now that I’m in a better spot where I’m not spending every cent I find on food I can digest, I try to give gluten free items, nut-free, and/or dairy free items to food drives.  Just in case there’s people who are dealing with any intolerance/allergy.  This isn’t really something people talk about much, but I feel like it’s something that’s so overlooked.

    Also, as a side note, I kinda expected Warren to be a jerk about this, because that’s his job.

  • Katie

    The post about produce reminds me to give a shout out to “Market on the Move’ a really cool org in my area.  They get produce that is still good, but needs to be eaten *now*  from distributors.  Some of it is given directly to food banks, but most of it is sold to the public, $10 for 60lbs.  The idea is that people will share what they can’t eat with others.  The money made goes to support the organization, and to support food banks.  Its pretty cool, and is an idea that deserves to be spread to other areas.

  • The last time I heard of a person managing to get a charity event going
    to raise the price for a lifesaving operation, the American Cancer
    Society raised the price of her operation on the grounds that “charity
    events are a job, ma’am, so you’re not eligible for special
    treatment anymore.” So even if you did, it might turn right around and
    bite you in the ass.


    Wow, talk about a major dick move. (>_<)

  • The Lodger

    Another vote here for giving money to the food bank. Some food banks get surplus/donated food from the USDA or local groceries, and use their own funds to buy food items that complete the basket, but no one is likely to donate.

    On the other hand, it’s good to have a small stock of donated food on hand when the recipients are coming in this afternoon and there isn’t time to replenish the shelves.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Aidan: I’ve got a friend who’d thank you from the bottom of his heart for that. Every time I see the exorbitant prices on gluten-free food, I have to spit at the health food industry for taking advantage of people with no other alternative.

  •  Sam: I agree with you. It bothers me a lot too, especially since I’m only a mild case of gluten intolerance – someone with one worse than me would find it even harder than I do.