Thursday, September 02, 2004
The Devil in the Details: Single Moms No Longer Qualify as Displaced Homemakers 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While the eyes of the nation remain focused on the "big issues" like the war, the upcoming elections, and the economy, the real work of the conservative agenda often takes place with only a pen stroke, sans fanfare. From Feministing:
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. How compassionate of them.

In New York, centers were notified that they can only help women who can prove their marital status by providing evidence of divorce, death of a spouse, or something that shows proof of a previous legal marriage. (Meaning gay unions are TOTALLY out of the question.)

From the Ithaca Journal: "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."
The Ithaca Journal piece describes how drastically this change will affect a local program, the Women's Opportunity Center:
The [Ithaca WOC program] 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.

...According to a state Department of Labor document issued to program coordinators on Jan. 24, 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.

..."It's dumb, whatever it is," Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th Dist.) said Thursday from her Ithaca office. "I think it's a bad idea, not serving a wide range of people who could really use these resources. If you can't afford to go get a divorce, you're stuck."

Herath, who saw her center's funding drop from $212,000 to $162,000 last year, says she's still extremely grateful to the state for the money she does receive, and that her sole complaint is with the extremely limited definition of the word "family."
A full two thirds of the women currently in the WOC will be disqualified because of this ruling. Sadly, policy changes like these are almost always relegated to the back pages of the papers, and the way many people first learn of their existence is when they're told "sorry, we can't help you" at a government office.

If state funds are so tight, wouldn't it be more fair instead to raise financial qualification thresholds and still help the poorest homemakers, rather than using this moralistic standard of marital status - essentially, children's legitimacy - to determine a woman's aid eligibility? This isn't "supporting family values" - this is "Scarlet Letter Lite."