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Letter to Senate on PRIDE Act 2004

 

March 26, 2004

United States Senate
Washington, DC  20150

Dear Senator:

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 our help.

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 years
  • 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 barriers
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

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee

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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 work policies:

  • 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.
Strengthening Marriage and Family Life:  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:
  • 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 healthy.
  • 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.
Sustaining the needy and vulnerable among us:  The Bishops’ 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 immigrants.
  • 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.
Adequate Resources:  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.


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