Welfare block grants will restrict eligibility for AFDC assistance and therefore Medicaid, even if the bills are not linked. This will result in the loss of crucial health care coverage for millions of poor women and older children. For battered women, who desperately need medical services, loss of access to primary care could result in increased visits to emergency rooms and serious injuries that go untreated.
Lifetime time limits
Most battered women, like most poor women, require AFDC for much less time than the specified limits. BUT, the creation of lifetime time limits on welfare eligibility, whether 2 or 5 years, ignore the numerous barriers and struggles that battered and poor women face as they attempt to provide for themselves and their children.
Time limits fail to take into account the traumatic effects that domestic violence inflicts, and neglect to consider the time that physical and emotional injuries need to heal.
Limits do not acknowledge the continuing threats that abusers often pose to battered women and their children. Such harassment, often repeated and long-term, affects the battered woman's chance of finding and keeping employment.
The hardship exception is only available for 20% of the average monthly caseload, which is extremely low. Data from the Chicago-based Taylor Institute indicates that 50-60% of participants in welfare-to-work programs are past domestic violence victims and 25-60% are current domestic violence victims. A better approach is to create a 20% limit for hardship and additional exemptions for battering cases only.
Most battered women, like most poor women, want to work in order to avoid or leave welfare. But, battered women face multiple obstacles in finding employment, and work requirements fail to take into account these difficulties. State programs may provide little or no job assistance or skills training, and restrict or deny medical coverage or child care assistance. In these situations, work requirements further constrain women's choices.
Work requirements should be more flexible, including specifying that exemptions for hardship or domestic violence are available. Domestic violence exemptions should not be subsumed within the 15 or 20% of cases which may be exempt for hardship.
Victims of domestic violence often do not have the time to pursue the necessary counseling, safety planning, and legal activities necessary to escape violence while also trying to work. Time spent in "required work activities" should be satisfied by domestic violence victims participating in necessary supportive services.
Child exclusion policies
For battered women and survivors of sexual violence, the policy could be even more harmful because the exemption for rape and incest is very narrow. Domestic violence often includes rape and incest, and under this bill, states can define rape and incest without any guidance. How can we be sure that the definition of rape will include acquaintance rape and marital rape?
Victims of violence deserve privacy when discussing their personal life stories and tragedies. Will states require rape and incest survivors to disclose their stories to an overworked caseworker who must be more concerned with decreasing the numbers receiving assistance than protecting individual confidentiality?
Will states give recipients adequate notice of the rape and incest exemption? Without notice to their mothers, how can children born from rape and incest possibly receive benefits?
Rape is the most underreported violent crime in America. Many women, especially in domestic violence and intimate situations, do not seek immediate medical or police assistance. The statute should permit women to use a variety of materials such as legal petitions or complaints, medical or police records, and/or affidavits by the recipient and other witnesses of the violence and abuse. In the absence of other evidence, a woman's testimony must be enough. Otherwise, states may place a greater burden on AFDC recipients to prove rape or incest than is required by that state's criminal laws to convict the perpetrator.
If the illegitimacy ratio language is allowed in the bill, there would be no safeguards or guidelines as to how states can decrease "illegitimacy" under the proposed formula. To receive the bonuses, states will be more inclined to use coercive means to either restrict access to abortion services or encourage undocumented abortions to reduce out-of-wedlock births.
Conducting a paternity search or filing for child support could reveal the location of battered women and their children to the batterer, thus jeopardizing the lives of the mother and children.
The consequences of establishing paternity are often unknown to domestic violence victims, and could be highly dangerous. Establishing paternity means that fathers can seek visitation or even custody, putting mothers and children into physical danger. In-hospital paternity acknowledgments do not provide necessary safeguards for battered women because domestic violence victims often do not have full information in a highly charged hospital setting.
Battered immigrant women are placed in further danger
Legal immigrants who are not citizens are denied access to SSI, food stamps, AFDC, SSI block grants, and Medicaid. Without eligibility for these life-saving programs, battered immigrant women may be forced to rely on their abuser for financial support and cannot flee the violence they face.
Unlike the immigration bill, under the welfare bill, battered immigrant women do not have an exemption from the "deeming requirement." "Deeming" counts the income of the sponsor as available to the immigrant, which may force battered immigrant women to rely on their sponsor even when he is abusive. The presumption that a victim of domestic violence has access to the income of her sponsor is wrong and potentially fatal to the battered immigrant woman.
There is no definition of the level or types of proof necessary for victims of domestic violence. The statute should permit women to use a variety of materials such as legal petitions or complaints, medical or police records, and/or affidavits by the recipient and other witnesses of the violence and abuse.
Data collection efforts do not include information about the family history of past and current domestic violence.
With the dramatic cuts in funding for Legal Services, battered women are often unable to afford legal advocacy and cannot obtain the protective court measures that they so desperately need.
For more details or suggested language, contact Pamela Coukos, Jennifer Goldberg, Lisa Lewis, or Pat Reuss at NOW LDEF, (202) 544-4470. 1 Wendy Pollack, Twice Victimized: Domestic Violence and Welfare "Reform" 30 Clearinghouse Review 329, 330 (July 1996).