By Julie Zeilinger*
In the United States, 37 million people (12.6 percent of the population) are currently living in poverty;  a disproportionate amount of this population is women. Economic recovery is dependent on opportunities to learn new skills and make fairer wages – a solution that has failed to become reality for so many. As the nation begins the process of rebuilding itself after the economic crisis, and budget balances lead to additional layoffs, it’s clear that we are in desperate need of federal intervention. On June 17, Queers for Economic Justice  hosted an “Act Queer Teleconference ” addressing several federal programs and policies, including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)  Program and the Local Jobs for America Act --major policies that could benefit economic recovery. The call was part of QEJ’s national public education work, assessing economic justice issues that impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, and gender nonconforming folks.
The teleconference began with Francis X. Tobin from Jobs with Justice – an organization founded to “lift up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice” – who gave a basic run down of the Local Jobs for America Act. The Act, according to Tobin, would provide $100 billion for job creation in law enforcement, public services, and education industries as well as on-the-job training slots in nonprofits and small businesses. The Act would purportedly save/create one million jobs across the country, with states receiving money based on a variety of factors including need and poverty levels. While the prospect of creating long-term employment opportunities as a way of overcoming the recession is as exciting as it is timely, Tobin admitted that the Act hasn’t passed as speedily as its supporters had hoped. Tobin and Jobs with Justice plan to support the Act – a one shot deal that would funnel money for two years towards job creations – through town hall meetings and local organization over the summer, leading to mobilization and action in D.C. by this fall.
Next, Donna Pavetti, from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities  spoke about TANF, commonly referred to as welfare. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)  allocated $5 billion to a TANF Emergency Fund, which would allow states is either increase their caseloads and therefore become more responsive to rising need, extend emergency assistance to those facing foreclosure or behind in their payments, or subsidize job creation. 35 states used the TANF Emergency funds for subsidized jobs, resulting in approximately 200,000 jobs created. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities views this as a success story to be maintained and built on. Therefore, they are trying to get the Emergency Fund extended for an additional year while simultaneously looking forward to TANF reauthorization. The Obama Administration has decided to do a straight extension of TANF this year, which gives organizations time to gear up for reauthorization in 2011. The Center and other advocates are pushing to change the structure of the eligibility of poor families for TANF, including an increase in responsiveness amongst the neediest demographic, and re-focusing the program so that it becomes a spring board for education and job training, and ultimately an aid for economic recovery. There is also a movement to help TANF better accommodate the educational goals of its beneficiaries, Pavetti claimed, such as raising or extending the one-year education cap and using TANF money to create work study jobs in order to extend education opportunities. If restricted appropriately, TANF could become a tool for economic recovery and a key instrument in long-term economic security for low-income families.
As our nation struggles to find economic recovery solutions on every level – from individuals looking for long-term work opportunities to municipalities struggling to maintain essential services in their budget – we must provide evidence on what policies work and what policies don’t work in securing an economic recovery for all.
*Julie Zeilinger, current Communications intern with the National Council for Research on Women, is the founder and editor of The FBomb  a blog and community for teenage feminists. She is a senior at the Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio.