September 20, 2002
The Honorable Thomas A. Daschle
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20150
Dear Senator Daschle:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) I
am writing to you concerning reauthorization of the Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant program.
Our advocacy on help for poor families, including welfare reform,
reflects traditional Catholic social teaching and our experience in
serving the poor. The USCCB has consistently worked for welfare reform
policies which: 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
We also draw upon the Church's experience living with, serving, and
including among its members the poor and vulnerable. The Catholic
community is perhaps the largest non-governmental provider of human
services to poor families. We meet 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 on these principles, 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. We must
dedicate adequate resources to the struggle to overcome poverty; at a
minimum, the erosion of the value of the TANF block grant over time
should be corrected by adjusting it to reflect inflation.
While there are important areas in which it should be improved, the
Senate Finance Committee-passed Work, Opportunity, and Responsibility
for Kids Act of 2002 (the Work Act) reflects our policy priorities in
several ways and provides the Senate with a strong starting point for
its work on TANF reauthorization. With states facing increasing fiscal
challenges and the new pressures on the federal budget, it is important
that TANF programs be improved and funding levels, especially for child
care, be set this year. We urge the Senate to take action on the Work
Act as soon as possible.
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.
Our nation's policies should support productive work with wages and
benefits that permit families to leave welfare and poverty behind and to
live in dignity and self-sufficiency. Many who leave welfare, even
those who leave for jobs, are still in poverty. The TANF program must
be improved to provide participants with the support they need to get a
job and keep it. Policies that would continue the work-first focus of
TANF while supporting family life, many of which are reflected in the
Work Act, include:
Supporting Marriage and Family Formation:
- Allowing states to treat genuine education and training, as
well as treatment for substance abuse, mental or physical disabilities,
and domestic violence – which can be barriers to successful employment –
as work activities.
- Making sure participants have access to medical benefits and
food stamps for a full year after leaving welfare for jobs, to help them
make a successful and lasting transition to work.
- Giving states more flexibility in how they apply time limits,
especially when states chose to exempt those who care for young children
or disabled family members, or to continue paying cash assistance to
participants who meet the work requirements.
- Making sure low-income working parents, whether on TANF or not, have access to adequate child care.
- Sensible and fair work requirements policies that allow parents
on welfare to meet their obligations to their families; for example,
the Work Act would not increase the number of hours per week
participants must work, and would continue the lower hours per week
requirement for mothers with children under six.
- Rewarding states for moving people into work, not for simply reducing caseloads.
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
- Encourage abstinence before marriage, including extension of current abstinence programs
- Make sure single parents considering marriage, and married
parents struggling to stay together, find the help they need to help
build and sustain healthy marriages, through voluntary marriage-support
programs, such as counseling, mentoring, and building relationship
- Take special care to detect 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 have the economic or emotional
capacity to support their children.
- Allow states to make sure more child support payments go
directly to families, for this helps children economically and, by
strengthening their bond with their non-resident parent, emotionally.
While the Work Act improves current law in all of these areas,
TANF-funded marriage and family support activities should be focused on
low-income couples. Families throughout our society can face difficult
challenges, but our limited TANF resources should go to help those who
otherwise may not be able to afford the assistance they need to keep
their families strong and healthy. We also share the Work Act's goal of
reducing out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy, but we believe abstinence-only
strategies are the appropriate approach to this problem.
Caring for the Most Vulnerable:
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. Since
the 1996 welfare reform law was passed, we have worked to restore the
ability of legal immigrants to receive publicly funded assistance. The
Work Act makes progress in this area by allowing states to provide
certain benefits to legal immigrants. We continue to urge full
restoration of benefits eligibility for legal immigrants. We also have
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, which are really attacks on pro-family
principles and the dignity of human life. States should not be allowed
to tell a woman they will pay for her abortion, but will not help her
support all of her children.
It is not enough to have the right polices
in place; we must also dedicate adequate resources to implement those
policies. 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. The law currently provides
additional TANF resources to less affluent states and states suffering
the effects of a poor economy; these provisions should be continued.
We also urge you to increase the amount of child care funding available
to TANF recipients and other low-income families. While the Work Act
would increase such funding by $5.5 billion over five years, this amount
will be insufficient to allow states to provide child care for all
eligible working low-income parents.
Finally, we welcome the fact that the Work Act does not include three
controversial proposals, that would allow five states to turn the Food
Stamp program into a block grant; require
states to use
"full-family" sanctions when recipients fail to comply with TANF rules;
and give 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 you to oppose
efforts to include these provisions in the final Senate bill.
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 ask you to bring the Work Act to the floor as soon as possible, and
we look forward to working with Congress to improve the TANF program.
Grateful for your attention, and with every good wish, I am
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops