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Reluctant Welfare Mom

Like most recipients, this family never wanted to go on AFDC

By Traci Hukill

TAMMY GILMORE LOOKS LIKE she should be floating across a magazine page on a garden swing in a cloud of perfume. Slight and gracious, with translucent skin and a weightless quality to her walk, the 25-year-old mother of two is deceptively resilient and grounded, a realist who waitressed in her ninth month of pregnancy because she needed the money.

She's been on welfare for a year, and she's ready to get off it. Like most AFDC recipients, she never wanted to get on it in the first place.

"I have another year to go on AFDC if I want to, but I don't," she says, sitting in a friend's living room after a full day of job searching. She's dressed smartly in a scarlet blazer that matches her nails, and her makeup is still perfect.

"I'm glad welfare reform happened because I didn't want to go on welfare," she continues. "I was working and asked for child care and couldn't get help because I wasn't on welfare. That's why I went on."

Kaula, 6, interrupts with commentary on the cookbook she's perusing. The open page features a bisque garnished with a sprig of parsley.

"Yuck! They put plants in food," she exclaims in disgust. Her 3-year-old sister, Kendra, toddles around the room clutching a copy of The Teachings of Buddha.

"Put that down, honey," Gilmore says. "We don't believe in that."

When Kaula's father died five years ago, Gilmore moved to Santa Cruz from her native Ohio, where she'd been on her own since the age of 16. Although she had some bookkeeping experience, she took restaurant jobs in Santa Cruz, since they were all she could find. Now she says she'd like to get out of the restaurant business and back into bookkeeping, where there's more room for advancement.

Toward that end, she's just completed the GAIN program at the social services complex on Encinal Street. GAIN, which stands for Greater Avenues to Independence, is an adjunct program to what is now called AFDC, or Aid to Families with Dependent Children (what most people think of as "welfare") and will soon be called TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families).

Any adult--as long as his or her youngest child is more than 3 years old--who receives AFDC is also automatically placed on a waiting list for a GAIN job-search workshop, in which people learn résumé writing and interviewing skills and participate in a structured job search using facilities available at the GAIN Network Center.

Gilmore was unaware of the two-year eligibility limit for AFDC recipients until she again inquired about getting child care a month or two ago. At that time she learned about GAIN and, more important, Temporary Child Care, or TCC--a program designed to help working parents pay for child care. TCC assistance can last up to two years.

"I found out about the new situation and jumped on it," she says emphatically. "Child-care costs about $130 per child a week. It's more than rent!"

Kaula and Kendra have spent the last week at Kids Club during the days as part of the GAIN program. Free to hone her interviewing skills and to use the computers and phones at the Network Center, Gilmore has completed the six-day workshop and today, her first day of job hunting, has spoken to two managers about positions at banks and sent out another two résumés to local businesses highlighting her bookkeeping experience. She's optimistic but cautious.

"I would like to make $6, $6.50 at least," she says, hoisting Kendra onto her lap. Then, as if embarrassed by her own brazenness, she confides, "If I had it my way, I'd make no less than $7."

Even the audacious $7 an hour would scarcely pay for a studio and food for Gilmore herself, but that's not what she needs to hear now. It's been a rough week. She wrecked her car, her boyfriend threw her out and she had to move with the girls into a camper parked outside a friend's house in Zayante. Still somehow she's smiling, and still has time to tickle-fight with Kaula.

"I think it will work out," she says, getting up to go make dinner. "I hope so."

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From the July 31-Aug. 6, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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