Thursday, December 9, 2010

Where Did This Guy Go to College?

At his press conference on Tuesday, Obama said: "This country was founded on compromise. I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding. And if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn’t have a union."... Is he saying that Emancipation and Civil Rights were the fruits of COMPROMISE?  Is he attributing Emancipation and Civil Rights to back room deal-making and soul-selling, just like his tax cut deal?  This is self-serving historical inaccuracy. And, in the context of his complaint about progressives feeling "sanctimonious about how pure [their] intentions are and how tough [they] are," Obama's comment must be read as another put-down of the social movements (and soldiers) who fought for transformational change.

Obama Wrongly Describes the Origins of Welfare as the Origins of Social Security -- AGAIN

At his Tuesday press conference President Obama repeated the claim he
first made in his interview with Jon Stewart six weeks ago: that
Social Security began as a program for widows and orphans. (See my 10/31/10 posting for a clip from the Stewart interview).

At the most elemental level, this is a false claim as Social Security
actually left out widows and orphans when it was enacted in 1935. It
was only in 1939 that Social Security provided for widows and orphans
-- and then only if they were heirs/survivors of husbands/fathers who
were covered by the Social Security system.

Social Security was exactly the opposite of the program Obama
apparently thinks it was created to be. It was pegged to the white,
male worker who was employed in jobs that were available mainly to
white men. It was tied to white, male lifetime labor patterns of
uninterrupted employment. It was (and is) based on contributions from

Social Security was and is a contributory social insurance program.
The program that initially "only affected widows and orphans" (quoting
from the President's press conference) was welfare -- mothers's
pensions, as it was called in the Progressive Era, then Aid to
Dependent Children, as it became in the New Deal.

Does Obama think that Social Security is welfare? ....ahhh... That
explains everything! No wonder he is so quick to sacrifice Social
Security to the cause of deficit reduction. He must think ending
Social Security is the next phase of welfare reform (which he loved).
Dont be surprised if he tries to extend marriage promotion (along with
fatherhood, his alternative to welfare for single mothers) -- to

For more on this see

Obama's 2 Trillion Dollar Sell-Out to the For-Profit Health Care Industry

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Sign the petition to fight the Obama tax cuts for the rich!

The End of Social Security | MyFDL

The End of Social Security | MyFDL

President Obama's so-called payroll tax holiday is a shot in the gut of Social Security. Does he want to end economic security for the elderly? As Nancy Altman explains, the payroll tax holiday will ratchet up the pressure to cut and delay Social Security benefits because it means an expanded shortfall from the Social Security trust fund. Obama didn't get the 14 votes on the Deficit Commission needed to kneecap Social Security -- but I guess he found another way.

The Worst Off Get Screwed Over Again

Obama's soul-chilling, mind-numbing, spirit-sapping capitulation on the Bush tax cuts supposedly in a "deal" for extended Unemployment Insurance -- leaves out the more than 2 million workers who have exhausted their 99 weeks of UI.  By next year at this time, there will be an estimated 6 million 99ers -- so not only does Obama's tax deal spread injustice by fattening the rich, it will also spread misery and poverty.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Obama Exposes His Ignorance about Social Security watch/wed-october-27-2010/ barack-obama-pt--2

While we were yucking up Obama's "heckuva job, Larry" moment, we missed something far more ominous and important. At approximately the 8 min 40 sec mark in this clip, Obama says that "Social Security was originally a small program set up for widows and orphans." !!@#$! ....No wonder social security is on the brink of destruction by Obama's deficit commission, and no wonder so-called health care reform was built on warped principles. He doesn't have a basic understanding of social policy! To say that Obama's thumbnail description of Social Security's history is inaccurate barely scratches the surface of how appalling is the ignorance exposed in that statement.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poverty Rises

Poverty Jump and "Shredding the Safety Net" -- Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA):

The rise in poverty in 2009 -- the largest number of people in poverty in the 51 years poverty has been measured -- should be a wake-up call to politicians in both parties who have spent the past 30 years shredding the safety net. The spread of poverty in the past year is only partially explained by the economic collapse of 2008 and the prolonged, acute problem of unemployment that followed and continues. Since 1980, income supports for low-income people have been withdrawn, eroded, and withheld. Notwithstanding the current recession -- deep and intractable as it is -- economic support for poor Americans has remained meager, stingy, and inaccessible.

Between December 2007 and April 2010, TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] caseloads increased only 12 percent -- even though a 48 percent rise in Food Stamp caseloads attests to the exponential growth in need during that period. The minimal rise in TANF enrollments is not due to an improvement in the economic circumstances of low-income families, especially single mother families. In fact, single mothers are disproportionately unemployed, disproportionately shunted into part-time employment, and disproportionately paid very low wages. The low comparative rise in TANF enrollments is due to the active discouragement of welfare participation by eligible families, the rigid conditions for welfare participation, and the rise of ineligibility due to draconian time limits under so-called 'welfare reform.' The grim new poverty numbers expose a state of economic emergency for low income Americans. It is time to end the 30-year war on the poor and re-dedicate ourselves first to alleviating current misery and then to eliminating poverty.

For more information on the just-released poverty data, see:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Meet The 18 People Who Could Determine The Fate Of Social Security | TPMDC

Meet The 18 People Who Could Determine The Fate Of Social Security | TPMDC

Why did President Obama appoint a bunch of millionaires to meet in secret about cutting Social Security in the name of deficit/debt reduction? Why did he put Social Security on the commission's agenda? Social Security does not contribute to the deficit/debt. There are solvency problems within Social Security -- a shortfall in payouts thirty-plus years from now. The shortfall problem can be addressed within the framework of the Trust Fund by raising the cap on income that is subject to FICA contributions. The projected Social Security shortfall and debate about how to fix it do not bear upon imminent deficit causes and cures. Do not let the deficit commission make Social Security the scapegoat for true fiscal reforms such as raising taxes on the rich, cutting corporate welfare, ending wars.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

White House unloads anger over criticism from 'professional left’

The Hill Mobile - White House unloads anger over criticism from 'professional left’

According to the White House, progressive critics of Obama-style triangulation/centrism "ought to be drug tested..." Gibbs's ad hominems and overall disrespect for independent thinking makes me wonder why. After all, too many progressives (including some in the "professional left") have bent over backwards to rationalize, justify, and excuse the myriad disappointments emanating from the Obama Administration. There's a lot of mischief either in the works or coming down the pike that we need to resolve to fight -- inequalities in health provision codified in the new health care law; assaults on social security and medicare in the name of debt reduction; deepening stratification of educational quality in the name of education reform; cuts in food stamps and other poverty programs despite rising need for assistance; draconian immigration practices and elitist gestures toward reform; not to mention the disastrous war in Afghanistan. The White House would do well to stand up to the enemies of peace, equality, equity, and justice -- rather than assail those who call them out.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why Progressives Disappoint Themselves

Eric Alterman shares many insights in his analysis of why progressives have little to celebrate even though Democrats control the federal government (Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now | The Nation).

He describes and explains the new countermajoritarianism, pinpointing systemic and individual reasons why conservatives have so often derailed what might have been progressive Democratic initiatives. The problem, though, is that there hasn't been a lot that's progressive in many Democratic initiatives of late, starting with health care reform. So ultimately, Alterman's analysis passes the buck for progressive disappointments -- exonerating Obama and Democrats in Congress by pointing to the influence of factors beyond the Democrats' control -- monied minorities, "the American political system," GOP obstructionist parliamentary games, and more.

We do live in a political universe in which money and media power can drown out, manipulate, or pervert majority will. Polls tell us that even if popular majorities did control how government acts, they would not necessarily or automatically push for inclusive or redistributive or even fair public policies. Political culture and ideology can crimp our solidarity with others, just as the rules and structures of politics can make it difficult to legislate generous policy. But none of these impediments make political solidarity and policy generosity impossible. History teaches us that "change" can happen and can move the polity in a progressive direction.

In Who Cares?: Public Ambivalence and Government Activism from the New Deal to the Second Gilded Age Katherine Newman and Elisabeth Jacobs remind us that individual and collective traits like courage, leadership, and moral compass matter a lot in politics -- and are essential to achieving significant policy change. They look at presidencies that accomplished major social policy innovation to help low income and economically insecure individuals and families, showing that both Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society were not achieved because the proposed policies were popular but because political leaders actually led. As Newman and Jacobs put it, "The essence of leadership is not registering the popular will and transforming it into policy but setting a course and sticking to one's guns in the face of growing resistance." The authors are not calling for elite indifference to public opinion, but correcting the debasing and corrupting impulse to equate democratic decision making with following the preferences of fat cats, polls and focus groups.

Newman and Jacobs compel us to think about the precarious relationship between leaders and public opinion, raising familiar questions about the meaning of representation (weather vane?) and the obligations of representatives (re-election?). The health of the democracy requires us to always think about these questions, and always to demand answers to them from our actual and would-be leaders. But a healthy democracy also requires leadership -- not positioning, difference-splitting, pandering, and pleasing, but advancing bold visions in concrete policy proposals that serve our best principles rather than our narrowest self-interests. Of course compromises will be struck and clear proposals will blur at the margins and become messy within. But if you start in the messy middle and erase the margins of political debate -- as Obama did in the health care debate -- you might end up with a few system tweaks but you certainly won't accomplish progressive change.

The two hallmarks of progressive policy innovation -- Social Security and Medicare -- face uncertain futures as Obama's deficit commission considers strategies to ensure federal "fiscal responsibility." As William Greider explained, "The president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink." (William Greider, "Whacking the Old Folks," The commission's work is behind closed doors and its recommendations will not be issued until the end of the year. Whatever the commission does recommend may well be received as fait accompli, the triumphal product of bipartisanship. In creating and charging the commission, our supposedly progressive president has created the occasion for a potentially devastating assault on Social Security and Medicare. What George Bush couldn't win in the name of the "ownership society" Barack Obama may well win in the name of the "deficit-free society." Billionaire Pete Peterson, who has campaigned against Social Security for decades, supports the Obama initiative, including with some of his billions.

The present course does not bode well for progressive policy. But perhaps if progressives hold ourselves and our putative leaders accountable for our own disappointments we could force a change of course. Now that would be change I can believe in.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Father's Day, another lament that single mothers raise children... The president once again pledged to use government to put fathers in families. This is more bad wine in fancy bottles. coming to your browser soon.

It's time to put a stop to patriarchal public policies. It's time to support caregiving parents, not to divert precious funds and programs to meddle with family forms ...Notice that the President's fatherhood proclamation leaves out single mothers as legitimate or desirable parents. Two fathers are better than one mother, it seems: "Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian." (

Friday, June 11, 2010

Obama Administration Plan to Establish a Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund: Old Wine in New Bottles

The Obama administration has proposed to extend Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for one year (rather than reauthorize it for five years) and to establish a Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund to replace the current Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood funds. The Innovation Fund would total $500 million (2.5% of the TANF budget) a net increase of $350 million on top of the $150 million that is currently allocated to Healthy Marriage &Responsible Fatherhood annually. 

The Alternatives to Marriage Project reports:

"In April, the National Fatherhood Leadership Group offered a one-hour conference call in which two Special Assistants to the President described the proposal and answered pre-selected audience questions.  The entire transcript is online. AtMP was among nearly 1,500 participants, listening specifically for clues to whether this administration is wedded to marriage promotion. 

The highlight was Question 3 by Phil: Will the current administration be supportive of programs that include couple relationship strengthening, regardless of the marital status of the parents?  

[Answer by] Martha Coven: Sure, and Joshua may want to add something here. I think we're open to anything. Whatever the most effective ways are to reach people is what we want, and I think we all know that, and Joshua will probably say this more eloquently than I can. We take parents as prospective parents or folks who shouldn't be parents right away as they are in the various points in their relationships and relationship with each other and with their children. And, I don't think we want to take any point where anyone is currently and take that off the table.

[Answer by] Joshua Dubois: I think that's exactly right. It's very well said, Martha." [it is??]

Another highlight was their explanation that the grant application will not list eligible activities, only broad objectives and strategies. There will not be set-asides for specific strategies (e.g., marriage promotion vs. fatherhood supports).  Dubois, who is also Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships referred to the influence of his Task Force on Fatherhood and Healthy Families.  Among that task force's recommendations was to  "Ensure that programming for couples' employment training, job placement, and financial literacy are allowable activities under federally funded fatherhood, healthy relationship, and healthy marriage grants."  (Task Force members vehemently disagreed about whether unmarried couples should be allowed to receive services.)"

In my view, this repackaging of intimate interventions does not end what's wrong with substituting family engineering for economic resources for low-income families.  

We have struggled for decades to get government out of our bedrooms and to stop governmental interference in reproductive decisions.  Do we really want to invite government into our intimate relationships?

As with pregnancy termination, services should be available and accessible to those who seek them. Counseling for partners should be available through health programs. Preparation for parenting should be available as part of elementary-secondary schooling. Parenting classes should be available for adults who are parents. Supports should be offered to partners who have to flee relationships due to intimate violence. 

Educational and support services for parents and prospective parents should not target poor people, should not pathologize poverty.  They should reach everyone in recognition that anyone might benefit from parenting support.

But the availability of such educational and support services should not authorize the government to act as a missionary for two-parent families, for marriage, or for fathers.

Some proponents of these sorts of programs argue that bringing fathers into families helps reduce poverty.   Other proponents argue that the presence of married fathers in families is a good in itself, regardless of economic consequences.  Either way, proponents want to uplift fathers even if at the expense of mothers.

Why should employment training, job placement, and financial literacy -- all mentioned by DuBois, above -- be linked to fathers or to couples?  Shouldn't these efforts to improve economic circumstances be directed at individuals, especially individuals who are custodial parents?  Why does the economic security of a mother have to be tied to her relationship to her child's father? 

The big losers here are single mothers.  Every increment of spending directed away from income support for single mother families and toward family formation programs to enhance fatherhood hurts the economic wellbeing of single mothers and their children.

We should embark on a more promising and more just course toward ending poverty.  Some first steps down such a path include:  wage reform to assure comparable worth; minimum wage reform to assure a living wage; unemployment insurance reform to take women's work patterns into account; education and training supports for low-wage workers and  low-income family members; paid family leave; universal child care; income support to caregivers in economic recognition for the work of raising children and caring for family members.

For more on this, see my article "Women's Work, Mother's Poverty: Are Men's Wages the Best Cure for Women's Economic Insecurity,"


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Marriage Promotion Hasn't Promoted Marriage. And It Certainly Hasn't Met It's Putative Goal of Ending Poverty.

See Shawn Fremstad's excellent review of a recent evaluation of the Marriage Promotion program:
The Failure of Conservative Welfare Reform: Marriage Promotion Edition

The White House is pushing for agency budget cuts. It should start by ending all federal spending on managing the intimate lives of low income people.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Obama's Racial Politics Examined in New Book

For a provocative, textured analysis of Obama's racial politics, take a look at Thomas Sugrue's new book, Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race

The stuff on Hawaii is caricature and confection; it would seriously detract from the whole were it more than a few sentences here and there. At the same time, Sugrue's analysis of Obama's ethnographic odyssey would benefit significantly from a more informed, critical understanding of racial politics in Hawaii during the 1960s and 1970s. For example, a more knowledgeable writer would notice that the intermarriage Sugrue assumes is the norm in Hawaii ca 1961 (when Obama was born) was actually more problematic; he would also notice that the intermarriers, in Obama's case, were not from Hawaii, moved within the cocoon of a university, and included a member of the socially and economically dominant and elitist race.

Similarly, some of Sugrue's efforts to think beyond the black-white binary in expositing shifting boundaries of racial politics could be based on more rigorous invocation of social science data on the relative position of different non-white groups in contemporary America.  For example, Sugrue offers outmarriage rates as one piece of evidence of Asian Americans' allegedly better integration into mainstream (white) America.  He points to high outmarriage rates among Japanese Americans -- a) without distinguishing between Japanese American populations that enjoy a critical mass (ie, in Hawaii) and those that are tiny and often dispersed minorities (ie, on the US mainland); b) without differentiating outmarriage to whites (arguably a form of integration) from outmarriage to members of other Asian American groups; and c) without acknowledging the uniqueness of Japanese American US demographics given a long history of immigration exclusion and low contemporary rates of in-migration.  Sugrue also uses evidence from housing patterns -- stronger evidence, for sure, but still untested by variables such as population density, economic investment, duration of residence, or disaggregation of the census classification of Hispanic racial identities. I read this part too quickly, perhaps, so my reactions might not be fair:  but from reading Sugrue's discussion of comparative inequality, one would not know that Latinas earn the lowest, most unequal wages of all women in the US and that Latina single mothers have the highest recorded US poverty rates.

Despite my reservations regarding aspects of Sugrue's analysis, his main project does successfully show how Obama explored and engaged the intellectual, political, social, and strategic dimensions of U.S. race politics from the 1970s to 2008. Sugrue distills the legacies of Martin, Malcolm, and the rights revolution -- both for us, generally, and for Obama, in particular.  He shows how Obama the participant-observer experimented with different modes of thinking about race, and he illuminates the seminal influence of certain academic interventions -- ie, William Julius Wilson's various works, especially The Declining Significance of Race and The Truly Disadvantaged -- in providing grist for both liberal and conservative versions of "getting beyond race."  By his silence about gender, especially the intersectional gender inequality of the whipping girls of "postracial" politics, Sugrue leads us to question the place of poor, Black women in Obama's philosophical and strategic calculus. Ultimately, Sugrue gives readers tools to consider how Obama the ambitious political actor came to deploy, simultaneously, race-consciousness (among Blacks), color-blindness (among Whites), and middle class gender values (for all) in a Clintonian strategic synthesis.  As Sugrue explains:

"By 2008, Obama had developed a patchwork quilt of social politics, one that combined left-leaning calls for cross-class alliance building, Clintonite advocacy for the end of welfare as we knew it, and a Christian moralism that allowed him to build an unlikely bridge between black churchgoers and culturally conservative whites. It was -- as with so many of Obama's key positions -- a synthesis of deep currents in American political and intellectual life in the last third of the twentieth century.... [T]hat synthesis...allowed him to fashion an appeal, at once, to left, center, and right; to blacks who called for a combination of social justice and personal responsibility, to whites who believed that the roots of black poverty lay in individual behavioral and moral failings, to Democrats who had worked to create a new liberalism that combined a jobs-oriented economic populism with cultural conservatism, to those right and center who supported bipartisan efforts to reform welfare, and to those on the left who were uncomfortable with it."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Obama Packs Debt Commission with Social Security Privatization Supporters and Benefit Cutters

Obama Packs Debt Commission with Social Security Privatization Supporters and Benefit Cutters

Elena Kagan's Troubling Record on Diversity -- In Her Own Bailiwick

The White House's Kagan talking points are wrong - Elena Kagan, Solicitor General | Obama Supreme Court -

The case against Elena Kagan

As Glenn Greenwald asks in his piece for, "If progressives aren't willing to fight Obama for the Supreme Court, what are they willing to fight him for?"

The most generous critique of the Kagan nomination is that Obama has squandered an opportunity to strengthen progressive jurisprudence on the Court. A more realistic critique is that Kagan's nomination directly assails progressive jurisprudential and political principles across a range of policy and constitutional arenas. Greenwald and others have explained Kagan's problematic record of support for expansive executive power, a derangement of the constitutional order. They have also sounded necessary alarms about her willingness to subordinate civil liberties to the "war on terror."

Kagan's willingness to make problematic adjustments to civil rights and liberties are not limited to the national security arena. As a domestic policy advisor in the Clinton White House, she collaborated in the most heinous social policy decision of the 20th Century: punitive welfare reform. Welfare reform embraced Blue Dog and Rehnquist-style fiscal retrenchment and federalist devolution. But it was worse even that that: 1990s welfare reform culminated a race-coded war against poor women with children by imposing inequality on them. At bottom, welfare reform demanded that low-income mothers trade constitutional liberty and equal citizenship for economic security; and it so disdained low-income mothers as mothers that it set in motion a series of policy conditions that undermine low-income single mothers to remain single or to be mothers if they do.

I hope progressives will finally resist the triangulating, difference-splitting, and play-faking we have suffered, mostly in silence, in the name of Change.

See The case against Elena Kagan - Glenn Greenwald -

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


For all you "fix it later" folks: Remember the Civil Rights Act of 1991? Women shortchanged in Title VII remedies "so that we can pass the bill"? In exchange for accepting an albatross, we were promised that the cap on damages in sex discrimination cases would be "fixed immediately." Well, it's nearly 20 years later... and we're still 2nd class citizens under Title VII.

Within the realm of health policy: When Medicare was enacted it was supposed to be the proverbial "foot in the door"... But we couldn't even get kiddicare as an "improvement." US policy history in general does not show that small steps ever lead the way to broad social provision in the structure of programs. We have been able to add previously excluded groups to coverage within existing frameworks -- teachers and domestic workers added to Social Security, eg. But in the current health care proposal, the framework is the problem. It's a framework that unleashes or approves concatenating inequalities in health provision, as well as in personal autonomy. There is no reason to believe that a for-profit, employer-based health care system based on coerced individual enrollment in private coverage can be "fixed," when the only way to provide socially just coverage is through a not-for-profit, not-employer-based, public system of health provision for all.

Fool me three times...?

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Based on its FY2011 budget request for TANF, the Obama Administration continues to link poverty reduction to family structure. The TANF budget request extends TANF funding for one year, including recession-related emergency funds for states that were introduced in last year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The only proposed change in TANF is the allocation of $500 million for a "Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund." This represents a huge increase in funds for fatherhood and related family structure programs -- from $150 million each year under the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Father Initiative of the Bush Administration, to $500 million in just one year. According to the HHS narrative ( about the proposed family structure initiative, it is hoped that programs supported by these funds will usher in future changes in the TANF program. So, far from a one-shot deal, this is a shot-in-the-arm to proponents of privatizing poverty reduction through patriarchal family norms. Significantly, despite economic hard times, the budget request does not include increases in cash grants to struggling families, a suspension of time limits on eligibility for assistance, an end to sanctions, or a change in rules so that more families in need of assistance can actually get it.

We need to insist on changes to the structure of TANF, not the structure of families. For starters, FY2011 TANF funding should be conditioned on suspending time limits, sanctions, and diversion practices.

Monday, January 11, 2010

BEYOND STUPAK (II): Why The Language in the Nurse Home Visitation Provision in Health Care Legislation Must be Fixed

Gwendolyn Mink and Dorothy Roberts
January 11, 2010

As health care legislation enters its final stages, it appears that the federal government is poised to authorize Medicaid spending for an ambitious, mostly privately-run program that enters and touches the most intimate domains of poor women – without any explicitly stipulated protections of their rights.

Six weeks ago, we circulated a commentary about a provision in the House health care bill authorizing funds for nurse home visitation programs aimed at low-income pregnant women and mothers of young children (H.R. 3962, Section 1713). We were concerned that the provision is not aimed at providing health care. Instead, it pledges to advance goals that endanger the reproductive and family freedoms of low income women, conjures stereotypes of low income women of color, and implies that using available public services is a bad thing. The Senate bill contains a similar provision.

Our commentary focused on the statutory language of the House provision. We did not comment on any existing program, but rather drew attention to the legislative wording, which includes as stated goals an increase in birth intervals, a reduction in maternal and child criminal involvement, and a reduction in dependence on public assistance. Unfortunately, our criticism of the statutory language was misread by many program advocates, who concluded that we opposed nurse home visitation services per se (or their own programs in particular).

We received numerous responses to our commentary. Those who disagreed with us generally argued that the good intentions of the people who run current nurse home visitation programs make the statutory language irrelevant. Some defended the statutory language, saying that it was instrumentally necessary to secure support from a majority in Congress. Others pointed to language in the provision promising that programs will be “outcome based,” arguing that such a requirement guarantees that only “good” programs that “work” will be funded.

To answer the first point, we would draw your attention to the long and persistent history of government programs for poor women that linked the provision of services to the supervision and regulation of poor women’s fertility and family decisions. Some examples: home visitors who used poverty as an occasion to impose Americanizing domestic practices on immigrant women during the early 20th century; eugenicist birth control clinics of the 1920s and ‘30s; sterilization abuse by government-paid doctors well into the 1970s; ongoing child exclusion or “family cap” rules in welfare policy. Some of these policies are deliberately punitive and rights abusive. But even those programs that began with good intentions – such as providing health services to poor women – often have confused poor people’s access to services with government’s access to poor people, using services as a means to regulate the poor.

The argument that outcome-based criteria assures that only programs that “work” will be funded does not dispel the danger that programs will imperil family and reproductive autonomy and liberty. The goals enumerated in the statutory provision are race-coded social, cultural, and economic goals, which measure program success in aggregate sociological terms rather than in terms of the wellbeing of individuals. A program that “works” is one that is correlated with lower welfare participation, fewer births, and the like. Given these measures, what is to prevent a program from discouraging childbearing by clients who participate in public assistance programs? What is to prevent it from impeding participation in public assistance programs altogether? What checks are in place to prevent a program from encouraging use of risky contraceptives by poor women to increase birth intervals in poor families? Ends-means rationalizations are the start of the slippery slope of rights abuse and disregard for the personhood of poor women.

All of the dangers that we note here are rendered even more acute by the extreme delegation and devolution of authority implied by both the House and Senate provisions for nurse home visitation. The details of how program goals are to be measured are delegated to the Department of Health and Human Services and the selection of funded programs is delegated to the states. States, in turn, are expected to fund private programs. Unless protections for women and families are stipulated explicitly in the statutory provision, there is no guarantee that devolved programs will honor the rights and respect the autonomy of their clients. The good intentions of existing programs may protect low income women in the short term. But who knows what the intentions will be of new programs that arise to take advantage of federal funding? Who knows what the intentions will be of the various states in choosing which programs to encourage? Who knows what the intentions will be of an executive branch controlled by a different party?

It is imperative that a government-sponsored home visitation program for low-income women amply and explicitly protects program clients. Express stipulations to assure that participation is voluntary must be part of the statutory package, along with a guarantee that a decision to participate, or not to, cannot be made a condition of receiving other government assistance. The aim of nurse home visitation programs should be to provide medical and wellness services; neither the statutory language nor administrative regulations should permit or encourage monitoring the family and reproductive decisions of individuals, and neither should denigrate low-income mothers for using public assistance. We should do everything possible to ensure that these programs support the women they are intended to serve rather than using women to advance the interests of government.

To this end, we have developed a set of principles we think should guide revisions of the provision in the final version of health care reform legislation:

1) Define the responsibilities of the federal government and the
states and assure accountability of any nongovernmental grantees
regarding all safeguards and requirements listed below.

2) Explicitly enumerate safeguards for individuals and families,

a) apply HIPAA standards to all interactions with home

b) guarantee that program participation or non-participation
cannot be used as a condition or criterion for
participation in other government programs;

c) elaborate mechanisms to ensure that participation is

3) Restrict program goals, purposes, definition of needs, and
benchmarks to:

a) providing medical and wellness services;

b) facilitating linkage to appropriate non-medical/wellness
services if the participating family or a family member
seeks assistance for family or sexual violence;

c) facilitating linkage to appropriate education, income
assistance, or food programs if the participating family
or family member so requests.

4) Require home visiting personnel to demonstrate language and
cultural competence in the languages and cultures of the
communities/families visited.

5) Remove statutory language that could be read to support
monitoring/influencing a woman's fertility and family life.

6) Remove statutory language that denigrates low income mothers who
seek or use public assistance.

Gwendolyn Mink, Ph.D., an independent scholar, is co-editor of the two-volume Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy and author of Welfare's End and The Wages of Motherhood: Inequality in the Welfare State. She is on the board of the Institute for Public Accuracy and is coordinator and trustee of the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation for Low Income Women and Children. She can be contacted at

Dorothy Roberts, J.D., the Kirkland & Ellis Professor, Northwestern University Law School, is the author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty and of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare. She serves on the boards of directors of Black Women's Health Imperative, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, and Generations Ahead. She can be contacted at