WASHINGTON – The Republican leadership wants a House floor vote before the Memorial Day recess on reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a bill they have loaded with attacks on the poor such as increasing to 40 hours per week the “workfare” requirement for recipients.

A broad-based coalition of welfare rights, anti-poverty and women’s organizations is fighting to block the TANF plan drafted by the Bush administration and introduced by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

This coalition has rallied in support of an alternative bill, HR-3113 by Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii) that seeks to help recipients, mostly single mothers and their children, out of poverty rather than simply forcing them off welfare.

In testimony before the Subcommittee on Human Resources April 11, Rep. Mink pointed out that since TANF became law in 1996, millions have been forced off welfare.

“But we have evidence that many families have been pushed from the welfare rolls before they were able to adequately provide for their families,” she said.

“Is this our goal, simply to reduce the number of persons receiving benefits? Or are we trying to help these families find their way to economic security? Some 50 percent of former recipients are still living in poverty and 30 percent have been unable to find jobs.”

Many, she said, suffer hardships ranging from having to “forego needed medical care, to skipping meals, to being unable to pay the rent.”

The first and foremost goal of any welfare reform, Mink added, must be to “ensure the welfare of the children affected. Reducing dependency is a valid goal but only if it means that families can move into true self-sufficiency.”

Her bill expands the definition of work activity to include education and job training at all levels as well as a parent’s caregiving for a child under age six or for ill or disabled children. The clock would be stopped on the 5-year lifetime limit for receiving TANF benefits if a recipient is engaged in the allowable work activities.

By contrast, the Bush plan does not permit states to recognize attendance at schools, job training or job search as “work activities.” A state will be sanctioned if more than 30 percent of its TANF recipients are not enrolled in “countable” workfare jobs. These sanctions will be applied regardless of the state’s unemployment rate, lack of affordable child care, public transportation or any other barriers to work.

Child care and other crucial programs to enable single mothers to seek jobs would receive no additional funds under the Bush plan. As it is, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the main federal child care subsidy, currently serves only 12 percent of those eligible. The 40-hour work requirement will reduce that coverage even more.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is leading a strong fightback, appealing to its members to flood lawmakers’ offices with phone calls and e-mails “to pressure lawmakers to amend the proposed TANF reauthorization to expand educational and vocational training opportunities for welfare recipients.”

Last week, NOW points out on their web site, two House subcommittees defeated all Democratic amendments to soften the blow “and adopted a harsh, inflexible TANF bill that requires more work, provides less funding and dooms many poor families to below poverty level incomes with no future.”

NOW adds, “This is an outrage and we need to let House members know we are unhappy.”

Sojourners, a religious social justice organization, has initiated a Pentecost 2002 “Call to Renewal” for May 20-22 in Washington to demand enactment of a fair and just welfare plan. “An international war against terrorism that doesn’t target global poverty is doomed to failure,” states the call to the gathering. “We must change the debate and evaluate our success not by whether we are reducing welfare roles, but whether we are reducing poverty. Across the country, food banks, soup lines, shelters, and social services are all in greater demand, while resources are shrinking. It’s time for a ‘Marshall Plan’ to overcome global and domestic poverty.”

The call urges churches and faith-based organizations to come for a march to the Capitol and a vigil May 20 followed by a prayer breakfast the next morning, meetings with lawmakers, a hearing with testimony from the poor, and other activities.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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