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Gallo, Cristina. “Marrying Poor: Women’s Citizenship, Race, and TANF Policies.” UCLA Women’s Law Journal 19 (Spring 2012): 61–116.


In this article, Cristina Gallo examines the racist and classist underpinnings of current welfare policies in the U.S., specifically the federal Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program created in 1996. Gallo uses a legal lens, including some major cases, historical and cultural lens, and critical theory lens, to illustrate her thesis that the current welfare system is a racist, sexist, and classist product of a racist, sexist, and classist history. She does this by tracing the history of U.S. welfare policies from the post-civil war “Freedman’s Bureau,” a government bureau that was created to assist former slaves, through the 20th century Aid to Dependent Children, to TANF. In this history, Gallo names the American culture’s definition of citizens as workers and endorsement of the “family wage” ideal, the “heteronormative ideological nexus where the ‘fit parent’” and the “fit citizen’s of the social welfare state inexorably meet.” She examines how these ideologies have been deployed in racist and classist ways in welfare policy to exclude Americans of color, particularly black women, from full citizenship. Gallo then focuses on provisions of the current TANF system, including marriage promotion incentives, family caps, and child support policies, highlighting how these provisions are used to reinforce the current socioeconomic hierarchy in the U.S. and serve as controlling mechanisms for low-income women and families of color. The article also includes brief discussion of public efforts at reform, including those of the Progressive era, labor movement, and welfare rights movement. Finally, Gallo examines the political context of TANF’s passage, including the actions of mainstream feminist organizations at the time, to find the reasons that TANF could be enacted.  This article provides both a comprehensive history of the evolution of welfare policies in the U.S. and compelling examples of how welfare policies serve to undermine the autonomy of poor women and families of color. The article is helpful for anyone interested in an analysis of the welfare system. Though it is a law review article, Gallo’s language and focus make it accessible to those in other disciplines as well.


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Legislation/policy   History