As Republicans Attach Work Requirements to, Well, Everything, They’re Driving People Deeper Into Poverty

By Bryce Covert

Thirteen years ago, when Valeria Haley was eight months pregnant with her oldest son, she decided to enroll in Mississippi’s cash welfare program, known nationally as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. She was living with her mother and wanted to contribute to their household. But to qualify for assistance, her caseworker told her she had to go out and look for a job. No matter that Haley, who goes by Val and can’t be much taller than 5 feet, weighing just 110 pounds, had gained 88 pounds during pregnancy, much of it due to water retention. She would soon be diagnosed with preeclampsia, a pregnancy condition that can lead to sometimes fatal complications if left untreated.

Despite her condition, she was determined to meet the requirements and seek work. “Even though I was pregnant, even though I had been sickly, I was still getting up, getting out, trying to get it done,” she told Rewire.News at the nonprofit where she works today in Jackson. She went out every day, trying to get managers at different workplaces to sign a sheet saying she had come by inquiring about employment. “Knowing I’m not gonna get a job, but I got to go so I can keep my benefits coming.”

TANF offers recipients actual money instead of a voucher to pay for needs like food or housing. The median check today is about $430 a month for a single parent with two children; in Mississippi it’s just $170. But ever since Congress attached a work requirement to TANF in the 1990s, nearly anyone who applies has to either maintain a job or look for one to keep those benefits.

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