June 17, 2002
The Honorable Max Baucus
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20150
Dear Senator Baucus:
I am writing to share with you the views of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops as the Senate Finance Committee takes up the
reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block
grant program (TANF).
Our Bishops' Conference 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. Based on these principles, we believe a central goal for TANF
reauthorization should be reducing poverty in a land of plenty and
improving the lives of our children, through policies that support
meaningful work; strengthen marriage and family life; and sustain the
needy and vulnerable among us.
In this debate, false choices that diminish public dialogue and peoples"
lives should be avoided. 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.
There is a danger in drawing the circle of concern too tightly. Both single parents and
two parent couples struggle to raise their families in dignity. The
children of parents who were born here and of those who came here to
escape poverty and conflict are all deserving of help. We must assist
not only those who can move from welfare to work with a little push and
minimal assistance, but also those trapped without skills or education
or facing addiction or disability. Effective performance and commitment
is needed from states as well as families in need: states should be
accountable for programs that help people not only leave dependency, but
also to leave poverty behind.
As you act on TANF reauthorization, we would like to highlight some of our policy goals for TANF reauthorization:
Modification of Work Requirements:
We strongly support
continuing the emphasis of TANF on work. Work is the ordinary means by
which individuals support themselves and their families, participate in
God"s creation, express their dignity, and contribute to the common good
of society. The challenge is to ensure that our nation"s policies
support productive work with wages and benefits that permit families to
leave welfare behind and to live in dignity and self-sufficiency. That
is why we have called for Congress to expand the ability of states to
count genuine education and training as work, to allow participants to
engage in substance abuse treatment, and to give states flexibility in
applying time limits to those who are complying with TANF work
requirements and those caring for young children or disabled family
We are encouraged by proposals to require states to work with each TANF
family to develop individual plans that outline the family"s path to
self-sufficiency and take into account the well-being of the children in
the family. We urge the Committee, however, to avoid changing the
work requirements in ways that could limit states" flexibility to
develop programs that focus on getting recipients into decent jobs so
they can support their families.
Among the specific work-related policy proposals that we believe would
address these concerns are: Maintaining the 30-hour work activity
requirement, instead of increasing it to 40 hours; continuing to allow
mothers with children under six years of age to perform 20 hours of work
activities per week instead of thirty; rewarding states for moving
people into work and for providing work supports, not for simply
reducing caseloads; giving states more flexibility to count real
educational activities as work for a longer period of time and expanding
the definition of allowable education activities to include adult basic
education and post-secondary education; and, allowing states to count
towards work participation rates serious activities to address barriers
to employment, such as substance abuse treatment, domestic abuse, or
physical or mental disabilities. We also support giving states more
flexibility in applying the five-year time limit, especially with
respect to those caring for young children or sick or disabled family
Essential Work Supports:
For families leaving welfare, the
availability of work supports, such as health care, child care and food
stamps, can be a key to making a lasting transition to self-sufficiency
We urge the Committee to extend the Transitional Medical Assistance
program for five years, and improve it; to include additional resources
to ensure that child care needs of low-income families are addressed;
and to extend to a full year the five months of transitional food stamps
eligibility recently enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill.
Supporting Marriage and Families:
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 the context of a stable, healthy
marriage. It is essential both to provide the resources necessary to
enable all parents, married or single, to meet the needs of their
families, and to develop appropriate policies to support and strengthen
marriage and families.
A crucial first step in a pro-marriage policy is to end federal and
state welfare rules that discriminate against two-parent families. We
also urge the Committee to extend current programs to encourage
abstinence, to assist effective fatherhood programs that help fathers
develop the economic and emotional capacity to support their children,
and to allow states to pass-through child support directly to families
currently or formerly on welfare, helping children economically and
strengthening the bond between children and non-custodial parents. The
Conference also supports funding for programs to support healthy
marriages and strong families, and for research and technical assistance
focusing on family formation and healthy marriage activities.
These funds should focus on marriage and family services for low-income
families, with particular concern for the problem of domestic violence
Fairness for Legal Immigrants:
The Bishops" Conference has long
advocated for the availability of basic necessities to all those in
need, regardless of their race, creed, ethnic origin, or nationality,
and we have worked to restore benefit eligibility for legal immigrants.
We strongly urge the Committee to include full restoration of benefits
eligibility for legal immigrants. The restriction on assistance to
legal immigrants and their families was a major reason our Conference
opposed the 1996 welfare reform act. Restoring this help is a major
priority for the Bishops" Conference.
We believe the TANF block grant should be increased to
reflect inflation, and additional assistance to states with
historically low welfare spending and to states experiencing economic
difficulties should continue. We also urge the Committee to restore
Social Services Block Grant funding to $2.8 billion, the level
originally called for in the 1996 welfare reform law.
Ending State Family Cap Laws.
The Bishops" Conference has long
opposed family cap laws because of deep concern about their impact on
the well-being of children, both born and unborn. TANF should be
amended to ban such policies based on pro-life and pro-family
principles. States should not be allowed to tell women they will pay
for their abortions, but will not help them support new children.
We would also like to express our concern about three proposals included
in the House-passed TANF reauthorization bill (H.R. 4737): allowing
five states to turn the Food Stamp program into a block grant; requiring
states to use "full-family" sanctions when recipients fail to comply
with TANF rules; and giving unprecedented waiver authority to five
Cabinet agencies, with too few protections and little accountability,
that could undermine the integrity of essential programs for the poor.
We urge the Committee not to include similar provisions in the Senate
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.
With every good wish, I am faithfully yours,
Theodore E. Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops