PRICE OF POVERTY - Savage City plans 6 part documentary FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 10 Jun 1999 22:56:21 -0700 (PDT)


Ernest Savage


        Following the 1996 Congressional passage of the Personal Responsibility
and Work Opportunity Act and more than a decade of particularly bitter
political attacks on welfare recipients, states and counties are
redesigning public assistance programs.  The myth, supported by
mainstream media, is that states are implementing programs that are
successfully transitioning people from welfare to work.   Yet experts in
the field and welfare recipients themselves say that cut backs in
welfare programs will simply flood the streets with more homeless men,
women, and children.
        "The Price of Poverty," a six part series covers the history of welfare
programs in the U.S. and provides a case study of the development and
impact of current welfare reform efforts in Los Angeles County.  It will
focus on changes in both the General Relief program serving poor men and
women as well as the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program (formerly
known as AFDC) that serves poor families (most of whom are headed by
        First, we will provide an historical overview of the development of
welfare policies in the United States based on research and interviews
with legal, professional, and academic experts.  We will guide our
viewer through the liberal and conservative mutations of our welfare
state from the well known New Deal and War on Poverty eras in which
welfare programs were created and expanded, to periods such as the
1950s, when welfare programs were cutback and work requirements for
welfare were first institutionalized at the state level.  We will also
discuss the contemporary welfare backlash and the political forces
behind it.
        Other episodes focus on the development and impact of welfare reform in
LA county.  Three episodes will highlight the lives of six individuals
that we will track for two and a half years.   These six will be chosen
from a sample of thirty based upon the quality of interviews, and
ability to continue participating in the project.  The six will also be
chosen to illustrate significant barriers to employment such as, lack of
education, the shortage of available child care, as well as the
psychological effects of domestic violence and cyclic homelessness.
Ultimately, we want to scrutinize how the quality of life changes for
those hardest to employ, as time-limits force them into a labor market
with diminishing employment opportunities for low skilled workers.  We
will also focus on the causes of poverty in LA county.  It will show how
more recent economic and political changes-- the decline in real wages,
deinstitutionalization of the mentally-ill, destruction of affordable
housing, etc.--have increased the number and diversity of the poor in LA
County.   Finally, the viewer will directly witness the political
struggles in LA county over the development of welfare policies and the
implementation of  state and federal welfare reform efforts.
        For the past year and a half, our interviews and event coverage have
centered on the local legislative process, as well as service providers'
and activists' concerns regarding changes in welfare and GR (Please see
attached list of interviews).  We are now moving into interviews with
recipients in order to capture the ways in which they are experiencing
welfare reform.  Do they see welfare reform programs  providing them
with better job training, child care services, and employment
opportunities or do they see these programs as punitive and
ineffective?  What happens to recipients after they exceed newly created
time limits on welfare receipt?  Will they find jobs with liveable wages
or will they join the ranks of the homeless?  These interviews will
provide a first-hand look at welfare reform from the perspective of
welfare recipients themselves.  We are also beginning to contact
academic experts on welfare and poverty in order to gain a greater
understanding of the causes of urban poverty as well as the political
forces that have shaped and continue to shape national, state, and
county welfare policies.
        Interweaving the economic and political context through which
contemporary urban poverty has developed in Los Angeles County, with the
changes in the quality of life for the candidates we follow, will make
the connection between political decisions and real human consequences.
We want this series to reach people while their political consciousness
is forming.  Our target audience are high school and college students,
and we will coordinate our story development with curriculum, so that
the film becomes a more interactive learning experience.    However, we
will market the film to other audiences as well, cutting 90 -120 minute
versions for different markets.  Any organization relieving the
pressures of welfare reform, reporting on welfare reform, or involved
in  solving the crisis of poverty, can use any part of our footage for
free.  We want everyone to understand how the most devastating blow to
America's social safety net affected one of its largest urban centers.


        Our long range goal is to establish and maintain a non-profit public
benefit corporation that provides public education on social issues that
do not receive adequate, unbiased attention from profit-driven, mass
media outlets.  Once Savage City is a non-profit, we will provide fiscal
sponsorship, and produce documentaries, feature films, radio programs,
and music projects that inspire political and social change.  We will
also provide production advice and assistance to organizations that wish
to use any of the above mediums to educate the public.  For now, we are
fiscally sponsored through the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and
Homelessness, to complete our first project--"The Price of Poverty."
We have received individual financial contributions and have secured a
grant from the  Haskell Wexler Documentary Fund sponsored by Liberty
Hill (a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles).  We are currently
seeking other sources of grants and financial contributions and welcome
donations.  We have used materials from our documentary to produce a
number of radio broadcasts for KPFK (a public radio station serving the
southern California area) as well as short, educational films for educators and
social movement organizations.

Partial List of Completed Interviews for "The Price of Poverty":

Francis Fox Piven, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

Clarence Lo, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina, 1st District, (1 of 5
policymakers ultimately responsible for approving LA county's version of
CALWORKS, which is  California's welfare reform program)

Phil Ansel, welfare reform specialist for the Department of Public
Social Services  (He was hired to oversee LA County's creation and
implementation of CALWORKS)

Lynn Bayer, Director, Department of Public Social Services (The cheif
administrator for LA County's Welfare Department)

Bob Erhlinbush Executive Director Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger
and Homelessness

Paul Freese, General Relief Legal Advocate, Public Counsil

Sujatha Branch, Child Care Legal Advocate, Legal Aide

Nancy Berlin, Activist, Alexandria House

Karen Klaben, CALWORKS analyst, Human Services Network

Senator Antonio Villaregosa, Speaker of the California State Assembly

Vivian Rothstein Ocean Park Community Center (a large, multifaceted
service provider)

Susan Dempsey, Step-Up on 2nd (a drop-in center and transitional housing
center for homeless mentally-ill in Santa Monica)

James Bonar, LA Community Redesign Center (wrote the skid row portion of
the 1972 redevelopment plan for LA)

We have also shot a variety of  workfare recipients' protests organized
by ACORN, homeless vigils, food distribution lines, and interviews with
homeless individuals, many important LA County Board of Supervisors votes
on Welfare and GR issues, and welfare recipients.

Ellen Reese, Assistant Professor		Ernest Savage
Department of Sociology			Savage City Productions
University of Missouri-Columbia		Los Angeles, CA
(Dissertation was on the backlash		(Film Editor in Los Angeles)
against ADC in the 1950s.  As a Student
at UCLA, she studied and continues to
research workfare in LA.)

Please phone us at 323.666.6770.
Or email us at

Thank you for your time.


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