Struggling to Climb out of the Hole of Poverty

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, or “the end of welfare as we know it” was intended to help people climb out of poverty through work, and included some important support systems, such as subsidized childcare and work training and counseling programs.  In the 1990s, when times were good, the program was credited with getting millions of people of the welfare rolls. But we are finding that in order to leave poverty through work, there must be work available, as a study by the Economic Policy Institute finds, noting that the successes of the 1990s have been largely erased in this past decade.  As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institute, one of the architects of welfare reform writes, “What is needed is a stronger safety net for as long as it takes to get the unemployment rate back to reasonable levels.”

It is hard to climb out of poverty when you are in danger of falling through in one of the holes in the safety net.  Food stamps cannot be used for diapers, toothpaste, or other hygiene supplies.  Although some food pantries have diapers occasionally, they are treated like a precious commodity.  As one mother quoted in an article by Tom Zeller Jr. in the Huffington Post said, “There’s no program for diapers. . . .That’s what we went to the food bank for. So we would stand in line at the diaper lady. We would run to that line, because boy you needed them. And she would cut the bag in half and she kept track of how old our children were, and she would do the grandmotherly thing and say, ‘Why is your child still in diapers?’ to encourage us to do potty training. Not because she was the Grinch, but because you only had so many diapers and there were mothers coming up behind you whose children were not in that age to start potty training.”

Diapers are a small thing, but donations to a diaper bank can help fill at least one hole in the safety net, and help parents struggling to make the climb out of poverty.

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