Letter to U.S. Senate on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Re-Authorization, June 17, 2002

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 members. 
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 members.

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.

Funding:  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 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 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

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