TANF on the ropes

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the replacement to the Aid for Dependent Children, is up for reauthorization this Fall. Last week, groups from the community to labor organized a national call-in to senators against the punitive Carper-Bayh TANF reauthorization bill.

This conservative Democratic alternative to the Bush-supported legislation is no alternative at all. With increased workfare requirements and more stringent work requirements for states and individuals, the Carper-Bayh Bill tries to shut down debate about how a nation as wealthy as the United States can support women’s right to economic and social independence.

Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), a member of the progressive caucus in the house, provides a real alternative and an important antidote to political cynicism. The Mink Bill has refined the purposes of TANF to focus on poverty reduction. While welfare reform forced millions of individuals off the welfare rolls, it has failed to significantly reduce poverty in America. This bill places the emphasis on programs and policies that will accomplish the sustained reduction of poverty in America.

The Mink Bill directs work efforts to permanent, sustainable, high wage employment opportunities through education, training and targeting high-wage jobs. The bill also focuses on providing work supports like child care and addressing barriers to economic self-sufficiency such as domestic violence, mental or physical disability and substance abuse. Finally, the bill restores full access to qualified immigrants.

The push to support the bill has not ended with last week’s phone calls and e-mails. Call (202) 224-3121 to speak to members of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee to make the following demands:

• Allow education to count as work without regard to content, duration or level of education.

• Lift the 30 percent cap on caseload participation in vocational education and teenage GED/high school activities.

• Count as work participation in services to address barriers to employment such as mental health issues, domestic violence issues and substance abuse issues.

• Prohibit sanctions on mothers who cannot find child care, after care or summer care that they deem appropriate for their children under age 13.

• Make paternity establishment and child support enforcement cooperation voluntary for mothers. Repeal sanctions against “non-cooperating” mothers and their families.

• Pass through all child support collections to families and disregard $400/month in calculating income-eligibility for TANF.

• Do not use TANF dollars to promote marriage.

• Ensure application of federal civil rights and labor laws to TANF recipients.

• Allocate $11.25 billion needed for childcare funds for safe, quality, accessible childcare.

• Address multiple barriers, and mandate the Family Violence Option.

• Allow immigrants full access to TANF.

• Remove the 20 percent hardship exemption cap.

• Stop the clock for recipients who meet the work requirement, including by participation in expanded work activities.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org