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Bush proclaims the exemplary achievements of American democracy. Butin this same country, the State has stripped the welfare mother of almost all the basic rightsthat make a human life worth living,such as the right to refuse demeaning work. (This fact became all the more obvious, even to the corporate media, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.) The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRA) has eliminated her statutory entitlement to poverty assistance; she must look to her state constitution to give her claim to emergency aid any binding force. American constitutional law not only refuses to recognize the very concept of social rights but deliberately refusesto construct the poor as a suspect class where equal-protection doctrine is concerned. The State isempowered by the lawto intervene in the intimate and sexualdimensions of a poor single mother’slife in ways that would be considered legally and ethically unacceptable if these same interventions were aimed at professional women. The state has what the courts regard as a legitimate interestin forcing the welfare motherto cooperate with child support enforcement—even if she is fleeing from a violent biological father; it can order her to disclose her sexual history and to open her home,the personal conduct of her teenage children, and her very DNA structure tointensive governmental scrutiny. Federal law allows the statesto deprive needy families of
benefits when the eligibility time limits are exceeded and to set benefit levels at below-subsistence levels. Workfare rules require custodial mothers with young children to perform duties out of the home on a rigid schedule even though they may not have access to adequate and affordable childcare.In the guise of a poverty program ostensibly aimed at families with dependent children, the state can put so much pressure on a poor single mother that it places her in an absolutely desperate condition, one in which it becomes all the more likely that she will “voluntarily” give up her children for adoption. Indeed, three states evidently do not want to leave the custodial relinquishment effect of poverty policy to chance. They actually require welfare applicants to endure pro-adoption counseling and educational materials designed to encourage them—solely on the basis of their application for means-tested aid alone, with not even the slightest allegation of child abuse or neglect—to relinquish their custodialrights. There is hardly any difference between the slurs that are commonly circulated in American society and government about the welfare mother—that is, the demonizing representationsthat construct her as a species of vermin or pestilence—and the absolutely obnoxious and horrific claim that her life is not worth living and does not deserve to be lived. But mainstream American political rhetoric is also invested in portraying the state’s relationship with the poor in a humanitarian light: