efinance Bill 815

400 8th Street NW, Rm 1107 / WASHINGTON DC 20004
ph/fax: 202-783-3568
August 15, 2002
United States Senate
by fax

Dear Senator:
We are writing to call your attention to pending TANF Reauthorization legislation and to
urge your every effort to correct serious problems and deficiencies in the Senate
counterpart to HR 4737 before granting the TANF system a blank check for another five
The Senate Finance Committee TANF Reauthorization bill improves the harsh House
version but still falls dramatically short of improving the circumstances of poor families:

*The bill fails to consider caring for one’s own child as work worthy of
support for all families. Further, although it provides an exemption for
caregivers of sick or disabled family members, the bill places an arbitrary
10 percent caseload cap on the exemption. This delegates to caseworkers,
who are generally unqualified, the discretion to determine whether a family
is eligible for the exemption and among those eligible, which families will
actually be able to use the exemption.

*The bill imposes the same work participation rates on single-parent
families as on two-parent families, resulting in single mothers working the
same number of hours as two parents in another family, despite the
resulting lack of time to offer parental care to her children.

*The bill mandates participation of 70 percent of the caseload in work
activities by 2007, which would create more “workfare” positions despite
the increased difficulties faced by the current TANF caseload, which is half
the size of the 1996 caseload.

*The bill increases direct work activities to 24 hours, up from 20 hours,
despite evidence that the work activities into which recipients are placed do
not move them out of poverty and even though increased hours of
mandatory work outside the home severely tax a single mothers’ ability to
meet caregiving and parenting responsibilities.

*The bill permits only 24 months of full-time post-secondary education,
despite the certain knowledge that more education is the best strategy to
enable poor people to obtain stable employment that pays adequate wages.

*In addition, the bill imposes a 10 percent caseload cap on post-secondary
education, and delegates discretion to caseworkers, who are in general
unqualified, to decide whether a mother gets to go to school.

*The bill fails to include transportation or study time as priority activities,
particularly for the mothers of children under the age of 6 who are required
to participate in priority activities for 20 hours. Especially for mothers who
depend on public transportation to drop off and pick up children in child
care, as well as to get themselves to work, the failure to include
transportation time toward the 20 hours means that such mothers will have
even less time to attend to caregiving.

*The bill fails to provide adequate funding or oversight for high-quality
child care with protections both for child care providers and for parents
who otherwise are forced to choose among inappropriate or poor quality
child care settings. As a result, poor children will be forced into
unsatisfactory child care arrangements. Moreover, providers will lack
adequate wages and benefits, resulting in high turnover to the detriment of
the children.

*The bill permits only three months to address barriers as a full-timework
activity, with an additional three months as a part-time activity. These
limits do not provide adequate time for those with serious barriers to
address them effectively.

*The bill does not provide protections and safeguards to victims/survivors
of domestic and sexual violence. As with recipients working to overcome
other barriers to employment, domestic and sexual violence survivors who
pursue legal remedies or services to address violence and its impacts
should be deemed as satisfying work participation requirements. All
program requirements that interfere with the mental, emotional, and
physical safety of survivors should be waived.

*The bill continues the lifetime ban on TANF participation by individuals
convicted of a drug felony. Mothers struggling to get back on their feet
after serving their time are doubly punished and their children are made to
suffer exponentially. Many of these mothers were convicted under brutal
and inflexible drug laws not because they were drug dealers but because
their boyfriends or husbands were. The application of drug laws
disproportionately harms women of color; correspondingly, the drug felony
ban in TANF extends the disparate racial impact.

*Although written in sex-neutral language, the bill does not prohibit sex
discrimination, yet we know that programs for “non-custodial” parents tend
to train fathers, rather than mothers, for the high-wage jobs that would
permit women to support their families. TANF legislation should include a
sex discrimination prohibition, as well as supports for programs that train
women for higher wage and non-traditional occupations. The antidiscrimination
clause should also prohibit discrimination based on race,
national origin, and immigrant status in all aspects of the TANF program,
including in faith-based service delivery. In addition, states should report
regularly on the racial/gender/language/immigrant status impacts of TANF
provisions and implementation. For each state that reports
racial/gender/language/immigrant status disparities or inequities in
program impacts and administration, the Secretary should work with the
state to correct the problem.

*The bill provides no increase in TANF funds despite the additional burdens
on the states to meet high participation rates. This failure will create no-win
situations for recipients who will not be able to fulfill requirements because
states won’t be able to provide appropriate programs.

*The bill provides transitional Medicaid for only 5 years, despite the fact
that many low-waged jobs do not offer health insurance and that the
uninsured working population is rising. Under the existing bill, we know
that many eligible families are not enrolled in Medicaid. In order to ensure
that the eligible population receives this benefit, Medicaid eligibility should
be federally determined via income tax returns for all poor families who
earn less than 125% of the poverty limit.

*The bill fails to consider and to provide additional funding for housing and
thus ignores a basic need for poor families. Housing provision should be
considered integral to support for poor families. Moreover, the time spent
on securing housing by homeless or near-homeless families should be
deemed toward satisfying the work participation rate.

*The bill attempts to limit the reproductive choices of teenagers by
continuing restrictions on teenagers who become mothers (even though
most are old enough to vote!) and by developing institutionalized settings
rather than educational and economic opportunities for young mothers. In
addition, the bill promotes ignorance and medical danger by favoring
abstinence-based sex education programs.

*The bill wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on “marriage promotion,”
interfering with intimate decisions and relationships. This money should
either be dedicated to cash assistance or should be spent on underfunded
services such as child care.

*The bill requires states to develop Individual Responsibility Plans for each
recipient, delegating to caseworkers, who generally are neither omniscient
nor omni-skilled, the discretion to decide what a family needs, what its
problems are, what its goals should be, and how it can achieve them. The
degree of discretion delegated to welfare agencies/personnel compounds
the risk of disparate racial impacts within the TANF program. Already,
racial disparities have been well-documented with regard to sanctions, how
recipients are differentially tracked toward training and jobs, and which
recipients are more likely to be fully apprised of their eligibility for
transitional benefits.

The Senate should not endorse any TANF Reauthorization plan that: fails to recognize
the economic and societal value of raising children; does not remedy gender- and racebased
discrimination and inequity in the labor market; ignores the role of low wages in
perpetuating poverty; treats poor single-parent families as if the resources available to
them (time, money, opportunity) are the same as the resources available to two-adult,
middle class families; withholds comprehensive educational opportunities; impedes
recipients’ efforts to overcome barriers to employment; minimizes the impossibility of
fulfilling work requirements when families lack basic necessities such as safe housing,
quality child care, adequate transportation, food, and medical care; intervenes in
intimate reproductive and family decisions; and delegates discretion to caseworkers
without providing the massive funding necessary to ensure training for each and every
caseworker, as well as to monitor and correct the impact of discretion on race and
gender equality.

We urge the Senate to correct these problems and deficiencies in the Finance Committee
bill when it comes to the floor. TANF Reauthorization should not be an occasion to
make a cruel and burdensome welfare system even worse.

Mimi Abramovitz, School of Social Work, City University of New York
Randy Albelda, University of Massachusetts – Boston
Eileen Boris, University of California – Santa Barbara
Cynthia Harrison, George Washington University
Eva Feder Kittay, State University of New York – StonyBrook
Felicia Kornbluh, Duke University
Sonya Michel, University of Maryland – College Park
Gwendolyn Mink, Smith College
France Fox Piven, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Jean Verber, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Guida West, Montclair, New Jersey

TANF Reform