March 26, 2004
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20150
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am
writing to you concerning the “Personal Responsibility and Individual
Development for Everyone Act” (PRIDE Act) to reauthorize the Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant program. I understand
the Senate may take up this bill as early as the week of March 29.
Guided by Catholic moral teaching and traditional values, the USCCB has
consistently called for welfare policies that: protect human life and
dignity; strengthen family life; encourage and reward work; preserve a
safety net for the vulnerable; build public/private partnerships to
overcome poverty; and invest in human dignity. We also draw upon the
Church’s experience living with, serving, and including as members the
poor among us. The Catholic community, perhaps the largest
nongovernmental provider of human services to poor families, meets the
poor in our soup kitchens, shelters and Catholic Charities agencies.
Our community has lived with the realities of welfare reform,
encouraging and helping people to make the transition from welfare to
work. But we also live with those who are left behind, who turn to our
parishes, eat in our soup kitchens, sleep in our shelters and ask for
Based upon both our principles and our experience, we believe a central
goal for TANF reauthorization should be to address the moral scandal of
so much poverty in the richest nation on earth. Poverty can be reduced
through a three-pronged strategy of policies that support meaningful
work; strengthen marriage and family life; and sustain the needy and
vulnerable among us, especially children and immigrants. I attach to
this letter specific policy priorities for TANF reauthorization in each
of these three areas.
The PRIDE Act reflects some of our policy priorities, for example
provisions that maintain the current list of activities that can count
as work; extend for five years and simplify the Transitional Medicaid
Program; provide funding for fatherhood programs and marriage and family
formation activities; and take a first step on a state option to allow
TANF recipients to address substance abuse or other barriers to
employment, or to take care of a disabled child.
However, I am concerned that the PRIDE Act does not reflect our
priorities for TANF in several key areas. When the bill comes to the
floor, I urge you to support efforts to improve the bill, including:
- Restoring benefits eligibility for legal immigrants
- Providing at least an additional $5.5 billion in mandatory child care funding
- Giving states more flexibility to provide education and
training, by allowing vocational education to count as work for two
- Maintaining the current hourly work requirements, especially for single parents with children under 6
- Expanding the length of time states can choose to count as work
substance abuse treatment and activities to address other employment
We urge you to avoid considering TANF reauthorization through a prism of
false choices that diminish peoples’ lives and public dialogue.
Welfare reform is not a choice between encouraging greater personal
responsibility or accepting greater social responsibility -- both are
necessary to help families overcome poverty. Welfare reform is not a
choice between investing in decent work, child care, education and
training, or recognizing the importance of healthy marriages and
responsible parenthood -- all are necessary to improve children’s lives.
Children’s lives and futures are enhanced or diminished both by the
choices of their parents and the policies of their government.
Our faith teaches that the moral measure of our society is how we treat
‘the least among us.” (Mt. 25). Welfare policies should be judged on
the basis of their effectiveness in alleviating the poverty of our
sisters and brothers and in helping their families to live in dignity.
We look forward to working with Congress to achieve these goals.
Grateful for your attention, and with every good wish, I am
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
USCCB Priorities for TANF Reauthorization
Supporting Work: We strongly support continuing the emphasis of
TANF on work. Work is the ordinary means by which individuals support
themselves and their families and contribute to the common good. The
TANF program must be improved to provide participants with the support
they need to find productive work, with wages and benefits that permit
families to leave welfare and poverty behind and to live in dignity and
self-sufficiency. TANF reauthorization should reflect the following
Strengthening Marriage and Family Life:
- Give states more flexibility to count genuine education and
training activities as work for 24 months and to include adult basic
education and post-secondary education as countable activities.
- Allow states to count treatment for substance abuse, mental or
physical disabilities, and domestic violence toward core work
requirements, for the length of time necessary to complete effective
treatment programs; for example, three months is not sufficient time for
someone to successfully beat addiction.
- Make sure participants have access to transitional medical assistance for a full year after leaving welfare for jobs.
- Provide at least $5.5 billion in additional child care
resources to make sure low-income working parents, whether on TANF or
not, have access to adequate child care.
- Restore Social Services Block Grant funding to $2.8 billion per year, as originally provided in the 1996 welfare reform law.
- Sensible and fair work requirements that allow parents on
welfare to meet their obligations to their families; for example, by
maintaining current law on the number of hours per week participants
must work, and continuing the lower hours per week requirement for
mothers with children under six.
- Reward states for moving people into work, not for simply reducing caseloads.
The Catholic community
has consistently affirmed the vital importance of marriage for raising
children. Children do better economically, emotionally, and spiritually
when raised by both parents in a stable, healthy marriage. A
commitment to supporting and strengthening marriage and families should
include policies that:
Sustaining the needy and vulnerable among us:
- End state welfare rules that discriminate against two-parent families.
- Allow federal funding to states to provide single parents
considering marriage, and married parents struggling to stay together,
the help they need to build and sustain healthy marriages, through
voluntary marriage-support programs, such as counseling, mentoring, and
building relationship skills.
- Ensure that funding for marriage and family support activities
is in addition to the basic TANF block grant and, if included as a TANF
policy, focused on low-income couples who otherwise may not be able to
afford the assistance they need to keep their families strong and
- Take special care to identify and assist families suffering from domestic violence.
- Help all parents, married or single, to acquire the resources they need to meet the needs of their families.
- Encourage states to assist parents, often fathers, who do not
live with their children and may not yet have the economic or emotional
capacity to support their children.
- Allow states to make sure more child support payments go
directly to families, which helps children both economically and
emotionally, by strengthening their bond with their non-resident parent.
- Extend current programs to encourage abstinence.
- End the lifetime ban on TANF and food stamp eligibility for
former prisoners who have paid their debt to society, so they can get
the support they need to find work and support their families.
Conference has long worked to secure the necessities of life for all
those in need, regardless of their race, creed, ethnic origin, or
nationality. TANF reauthorization should include the following:
- Full restoration of eligibility of legal immigrants to receive
publicly funded assistance, a key priority for the Bishops’ Conference
since the 1996 welfare reform law barred federal help to legal
- Prohibit family cap laws, which offend pro-family and pro-life
principles -- the dignity of human life and the well-being of children,
both born and unborn.
- Give states flexibility in applying work requirements to those who care for young children or disabled family members.
The amount of the block grant was set in
1996. With each passing year, the value of the TANF block grant is
eroded by inflation. It would be a great improvement to allow the block
grant to increase to reflect inflation.