"Compassionate Conservativism" at work: Never-wed mothers kicked off federal aid

Feministing, quoting from the Ithaca Journal, reports that “the U.S. Department of Labor has recently ruled that programs which fall under Displaced Homemaker Services cannot use federal funds help unwed single moms.” From the Ithaca Journal:

The Women’s Opportunity Center in Ithaca will no longer be allowed to use federal funds to assist unwed single mothers, according to a U.S. Department of Labor interpretation of the word “family” in the latest Displaced Homemaker Services eligibility guidelines.

Dammi Herath, the executive director of the center, said on Thursday that the new regulations affect about 330 of the more than 500 women the center serves each year.

[…]centers will now only be allowed to use federal funds for women who can produce a divorce certificate or death certificate proving they have previously been in a legally recognized marriage.

Left out of the federal definition for displaced homemakers are those who do not meet the criteria for the word “family,” including unwed single mothers, mothers and children from broken homes where a marriage certificate was never issued, mothers and children who can’t afford the costs associated with obtaining a divorce certificate, and mothers from same-sex relationships.

This represents a significant change from how the federal government has defined “displaced homemaker” in the past. Typically, the government has defined the term like this (this particular example comes from a Federal Office of Technology Assessment report on displaced homemakers):

Displaced homemakers”

  1. are between the ages of 35 and 64, and are:

    • divorced, separated, or widowed;
    • or married but husband is absent, seriously disabled, or long-term unemployed;
    • or losing income from public assistance because the youngest child is 17 to 19 years old;


  2. have had serious employment problems, including unemployment, working at pay below the minimum wage, working part time but preferring full time, or dropping out of the labor force from discouragement.

So what effect will this change have?

Well, in Ithaca, over 50% of current beneficiaries were cut out of receiving federal aid. According to Margaret King of the Everywoman Opportunity Center in New York (Buffalo News, February 12 2004), over 20,000 women in New York State were beneficiaries of displaced homemaker programs. If Ithaca is representative, then over 10,000 women have been harmed by the Bush Administration’s decision in New York State alone.

I suspect this is an example of what happens when ivy-tower “marriage movement” philosophies collides with real-world compassionless conservatism. The result is punitive measures taken towards women who were not “correctly” married – regardless of real need.

POSTSCRIPT: A cover-my-behind disclaimer: I haven’t seen this story reported anywhere but in the Ithaca Journal. Most likely that’s because the mainstream press doesn’t consider this sort of technical change news, but it’s possible the Journal’s story is off-base, and if it is then so is this post.

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12 Responses to "Compassionate Conservativism" at work: Never-wed mothers kicked off federal aid

  1. 1
    Jimmy Ho says:

    (Am I missing something, or was there supposed to be a post?)

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Whoops! Sorry about that – the problem’s been fixed now.

  3. 3
    nobody.really says:

    So bankruptcy protection can be extended to officially married couples but not others. “Family” now requires marriage, too. Just another entry in the catalog of marital benefits.

    Are you entitled to unemployment if you quit your job? Often not; you’re unemployed by choice. But if you quit because you’re moving to go live with your spouse, then that’s not really a matter of choice, it is? So yes you get unemployment. But if you move to be with someone to whom you are NOT married, well then, that IS a matter of choice, and you DON’T get unemployment.

    Of course, it’s a matter of choice either way. But judges are uncomfortable making overt social judgments and often prefer to disguise their reasoning in the neutral language of “choice.” And that marital benefits catalog grows and grows….

    But being married isn’t all peaches and cream, ya know. The tax deductions for a married couple is less than twice the tax deductions for a single person, creating some disincentive for people to get married. Republicans decry this as a burdensome “marriage penalty.” Yet, curiously, when Republicans created a new Medicare program, the income that a couple can have to qualify for a $600 monthly credit is less than twice the income a single person can have. See
    Why don’t the Republicans decry this “marriage penalty?” Oh yeah, those credits only apply to poor people, so I guess it’s nothing to be concerned about.

  4. 4
    Charles says:

    Just thought I’d add my favorite marriage penalty nobody cares about to nobody.really’s:

    The earner income tax credit is based on household income, so if two people in a couple each make $6000/year, they receive ~$700 in EITC, but if they are married, they receive $0 in EITC. Again, since it only applies to poor people, you will never hear Republicans complain about this one either.

  5. 5
    dana says:

    what is all this crap about tax incentives discouraging marriage? who really thinks about tax benefits and incentives when they’re thinking about tying the knot? accountants? certainly not very many other people.

    i only thought about it when i realized, after my ex and i separated, that i would have gotten a bigger exemption on my taxes that following year as a single person than i did as a married person filing separately. it could have been worse, i suppose; i’ve always been eligible for a refund throughout my working life, and haven’t had to worry about owing the irs anything.

    i mean, really, though, this is like saying that the EIC’s incentive to have more kids. but i seriously doubt more people are procreating because of a tax benefit. i’d like to think they have better reasons to spawn or not to spawn.

    and if my hypothetical boyfriend ever told me he wouldn’t marry me because we’d be screwed on our taxes, i’d probably dump him.

  6. 6
    Lauren says:

    This is so discouraging. To what extent must they go to prove that they disapprove of us?

    Anyone feel the Victorian age coming on? There’s a chill in the air… Oh no! My knee was showing. I’m such a harlot – tattoo a big fat A over my heart.

  7. 7
    Jessica says:

    that’s essentially what they’re doing–instead it’s a big S for single. totally disgusting.

  8. 8
    Eileen says:

    Although you haven’t seen it anywhere else, this would seem to fall in line with the Bushies line of thinking. But lots of changes the Bushies have made aren’t widely known. My favorite is the 25 step rule. This is a rule that says Medicare or Medicaide won’t pay for a motorized wheelchair if you can walk more than 25 steps. The rule used to be you had to have trouble getting around your home. Of course, that made it more likely that someone like Bill Gates, with a big home would qualify before someone with a 500 sq. ft apartment, like me.
    Twenty-five steps in my apartment will get me from my bed to the bathroom. It won’t get me to the kitchen or my favorite chair. It also won’t get me the half-block to the elevator, and downstairs to get the mail. So my guess is that now you can get a power chair if you live in a nursing home, and can’t get to the bathroom any other way. And if you live in my apartment, with my disabilities, oh well, you just don’t get to go outside.

  9. 9
    J Stevenson says:

    or losing income from public assistance because the youngest child is 17 to 19 years old;

    Is that clause still in the law? If it is, it would seem that women who were on AFDC can still qualify for the program regardless of whether or not they were married.

    This story, as bad as it is, just does not seem right. It also seems counter-productive to not accept that clause.

    I am still trying to figure out “mothers . . . who can’t afford the costs associated with obtaining a divorce certificate“. Huh? Does that mean they are still married because they can’t afford a divorce? If so don’t they still qualify? Or does it mean that they can’t afford the $10.00 for a certified copy of the divorce order? If that were the case, as part of the program, the Center should provide funds to get the divorce order.

  10. 10
    Nick Kiddle says:

    The first thing that crossed my mind: they have to prove the marriage *ended*? So if the husband disappears, they’re out of luck until they can presume death or get a divorce in his absence?

    The second thing followed hot on its heels: having been married doesn’t alter someone’s need for assistance. Nor does it alter the effect assistance would have on their life. This can only be a judgement of how much they *deserve* assistance, which makes me very very grateful I’m living on the opposite side of an ocean from these people.

  11. 11
    mythago says:

    jstevenson, the reactionaries are also in favor of cutting aid to Legal Services Corporation, aka Legal Aid, which is the most likely place poor women turn to for help in obtaining a divorce. A lot of women simply do not have the resources or knowledge to divorce a husband who walks out on them–many think he has to agree to the divorce, or have enough job and family responsibilities that they can’t sit around the courthouse all day.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the waiting period. When I was at Legal Aid in Detroit, we did triage: if your husband wasn’t kicking the shit out of you regularly, you were at the back of the line because we were so overwhelmed with divorce cases.

  12. 12
    Tyrannus Evisceratus says:

    I dislike the term compassionate conservative it makes us sound weak.

    I always liked neocons. It sounds awesome.

    Anyway the deficit is growing larger as we type. Either kick unwed mothers off the dole or find other places to cut costs maybe shut down the post office.

    The point is this welfare system we have going isn’t sustainable. I would be fine with cutting off social security and medicare, but the politicians don’t seem to be.

    You can even cut the military if Barrack would end the war in Afghanistan already.