Welfare reform and the private safety net

Rebecca Joyce Kissane, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines in-depth the role of nonprofit social service agencies in poor women's lives and how the constellation of changes in the welfare state in recent years has affected poor women and community-based nonprofits. I base my findings on analyses of 40 qualitative interviews collected in 2001 and 2002 with poor white and Puerto Rican women (“potential clients”) and 120 qualitative interviews collected longitudinally between 1998 and 2002 with directors at 34 nonprofit social service agencies in three Philadelphia neighborhoods. Overall, the findings from this dissertation indicate that welfare reform and devolution are problematic from the point of view of both poor women and directors of the nonprofits that serve them. I find that the “potential clients” did have detailed knowledge of local nonprofit organizations and did not use them consistently or frequently for aid. They failed to take advantage of known nonprofit services because service use was dangerous (as agencies were located in unsafe areas), stigmatizing, full of administrative hassles and uncertainty, time-consuming or difficult to fit into one's schedule, and reserved for “needier” individuals. In addition, the new demands of welfare reform (e.g., work) restricted some women's ability to use certain services. Furthermore, the women thought about private aid and public aid differently, reflecting different service use patterns. The nonprofit directors, while not knowing many details of welfare reform, believed it had caused problems for them over the last few years and generally were entirely or partially opposed to it. Additionally, they questioned whether nonprofits could replace the government as primary providers of aid to the poor. The directors believed welfare reform's work first message and increased sanctioning of clients affected demand and use of their programs, increasing it for some programs and decreasing it for others. Nonprofit directors said they changed service hours, altered the substance of their services, and needed to advocate for their clients because of welfare reform. Staff also increasingly dealt with welfare-reliant women who worked at their agencies as part of welfare-to-work programs. Nonprofit directors at agencies with performance-based contracts or with welfare-subsidized childcare slots struggled with receiving payment for their services.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Kissane, Rebecca Joyce, "Welfare reform and the private safety net" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3095900.