Tag Archives: TANF

Family Caps are Still Considered Birth Control in Pennsylvania

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

The U.S. Census Bureau’s new report on family income reveals that 14.5 percent of all Americans, 45.3 million people, live in poverty. That’s two percentage points higher than 2007, before the recession.

Pennsylvania is no exception. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center noted poverty rising in most regions in the state, “highlighting the widespread impact of the recession and the need for policymakers to protect struggling families.”

So what does the Pennsylvania Legislature do the week they get back to work after a long summer off?

Propose cutting benefits to struggling families with newborn babies.

Sponsored by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2477 would implement what’s known as a “family cap” on the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. Family caps deny babies conceived while the family is enrolled in the program from receiving TANF benefits.

Quite literally, this bill attempts to deter poor women from giving birth by refusing to financially help the child.

In her memo introducing the bill, Swanger wrote that her intention is “to reduce the number of children born on public assistance.”

Evidence shows family caps don’t work that way. For starters, the concept is based on a false assumption. Low-income women are not deliberately getting pregnant and bearing children to snag more state benefits. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the average family size was the same (3.7 persons), whether or not a family received assistance.”

While family caps fail at their supposed intention, what they succeed in doing is increasing the number of families in deep poverty. In particular, they increase the deep poverty rate of single mothers and children.

The bill, recently referred to the state House Health committee, contains a rape and incest exception. It states that a poor mother can receive benefits to feed her infant if, while pregnant, she signs paperwork asserting she was the victim of rape or incest, and that she reported the assault to authorities “including the identity of the offender, if known.”

It’s unclear what prompted the bill. TANF benefits, which have not kept pace with inflation, are already failing to cover basic needs. The number of families receiving TANF in Pennsylvania is near an all-time low; benefit levels have not increased in 25 years. In fact, since 1997, the Commonwealth has reduced its TANF caseload by nearly 60 percent.

At the same time Swanger proposes cutting TANF for pregnant women, several lawmakers have proposed legislation to increase TANF benefits as part of the Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-choice legislative package supported by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus.

Viewpoints, and voting records, like Swanger’s put poor women in an impossible position.

While supporting a family cap on TANF to try to prevent poor women from having children, Swanger has also voted several times to limit poor and working women’s access to abortion services.

Poor and working women of Pennsylvania need opportunities that will help them lift themselves and their families out of poverty. What they don’t need is to be pinned between policies intended to deprive their babies of benefits as punishment for becoming mothers, and ever-increasing barriers to affordable, safe and legal abortion.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Economic Justice, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault, TANF, Welfare, Women's health, working mothers, Working poor

UPDATE RE: H.B. 2718 Would Penalize Women on TANF for Having Children Unless They Are Survivors of “Legitimate” Rape

UPDATE (10/26/12):  Within three days of the publication of this blog post, three of the six house sponsors of H.B. 2718 have removed their names from the sponsorship of the bill.  The prime sponsor, Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, defended the bill initially, but reversed her position three hours later, saying that she did not check the language of the three-page bill.  She has informed the Philadelphia Inquirer that the bill will not go forward in its current form.

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney (10/23/12)

Led by State Representative RoseMarie Swanger of Lebanon County, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are targeting poor women and children with the introduction of House Bill 2718, which would prevent women who receive benefits under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) from receiving an incremental increase in benefits due to the birth of a child.  As of October 17, 2012, the bill is in the Human Services Committee.

As the Women’s Law Project discussed in its report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, less than 2% of Pennsylvania’s residents receive TANF, and only 17.6% of Pennsylvania’s residents living below the official poverty line receive cash assistance benefits.  That latter percentage will be even lower now that Governor Tom Corbett has eliminated General Assistance, the welfare benefit program for individuals who were ineligible for TANF.  Most of the families who receive cash assistance through TANF live in counties where the monthly benefit is $403 for a family of three, often not enough for most families to meet their daily expenses.

Instead of helping these families who are struggling to make ends meet, H.B. 2718 seeks to reduce the assistance families receive by preventing a family from receiving additional TANF benefits if that family has a child while receiving benefits or while on a temporary period of ineligibility for TANF.  The result is a denial of assistance to the most needy and vulnerable, the newborn children themselves and their families.  This harmful bill serves as yet another example  of how hypocritical many of Pennsylvania’s politicians are in caring only about “life” before birth and not afterwards.

The bill contains a narrow exception for survivors of rape and incest that is so fraught with conditions that it is unlikely that many survivors will be able to avail themselves of it.  It is largely an empty gesture grounded in insulting beliefs about survivors of sexual violence.  H.B. 2718 does not use the term “legitimate rape” explicitly, the term used by Republican Todd Akin in support of his inaccurate and ignorant argument that women cannot become pregnant as the result of a rape, but it is built upon similar stereotypes of rape survivors.

In essence, this legislation creates a “legitimate rape” test based on misconceptions of how “real” rape victims behave, a test that determines whether a family may receive the incremental increase in benefits after the birth of a child.  If this legislation passes, a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape must send a signed statement to the Department of Public Welfare stating:

 [1] that she was a victim of rape or incest… [2] that she reported the crime, including the identity of the offender, if known, to a law enforcement agency or [3] in the case of incest where a pregnant minor is the victim, to the county child protective service agency… stating the name of the law enforcement agency or child protective service agency to which the report was made and the date such report was made.

This bill presumes that “real” rape victims report the crime to police and will have no trouble disclosing the details of the crime to the Department of Public Welfare, when research shows us that many victims never inform the police for a wide variety of reasons.  For example, as the Women’s Law Project wrote in its amicus brief in Reedy v. Evanson:

Decades of research has documented the fact that the vast majority of sexual assault victims do not report their sexual assault to police… Some of the most common reasons that victims give for not reporting are their fears that their report will not be taken seriously, they will not be believed, or they will be seen as responsible for their own assault. (internal citations omitted).

H.B. 2718 fails to reflect this reality of sexual assault, resulting in harm to survivors who become pregnant as a result of violence.

Pennsylvania’s women and children need laws that do not penalize and stereotype them.  H.B. 2718 must be defeated.

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Filed under PA Law, PA Legislature, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pregnancy, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault, TANF, Welfare, Women's health, Working poor

Governor’s Budget Includes Decrease for Cash Assistance Program

Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for 2011-12 has been released, and it shows interesting trends in funding to the Department of Public Welfare. The governor has proposed increasing funds for Medicaid, which is a good development for the state.

Enrollment in Medical Assistance is projected to increase in 2011-12 by 4.5% to 2,273,555 Pennsylvanians. Overall state funding for MA is $5.2 billion in the budget plan, reflecting the expected increase in enrollment and additional utilization costs. It also reflects a significant increase in state funding to make up for lost FMAP funding.

Unfortunately, cash assistance grants, meant to help families in need cover basic living expenses like housing, utilities, clothing, and more, have still not increased. It has been over 21 years since there was an increase in cash assistance levels on January 1, 1990. The grant levels that families (who are overwhelmingly single mothers with one or two children) receive are too low to begin with and their real value, when adjusted for inflation, gets lower and lower each year. The number of families and individuals needing assistance is expected to increase this year:

Enrollment in cash assistance programs is projected to increase slightly in 2011-12 to 256,005. Funding for cash grants, however, was cut by 10% to $249 million.

In this proposed budget, the governor’s office has ignored the situation of today’s needy families. It is time to provide those who have fallen on hard time with the assistance they need to survive and the real ability to escape the cycle of poverty.

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Filed under Pennsylvania, Welfare

Debunking the Myth of the “Welfare Queen”: Who Actually Receives TANF Benefits?

In February of this year, a blogger wrote about their experience observing an 11th grade classroom. The post discusses a student performing a poem that mocks a poor woman who encourages her seven children to steal food. When the character confronts police officers and runs into the drug-addict father of her children, she delivers the punch line – “You can have my welfare check!”

According to the post’s author, when asked who the poem was referring to, the student said “Minorities, because they’re the main ones on welfare.”

Besides the obviously skewed viewpoint the poem expresses, it is alarming to note that the girl reading the poem was one of two black students in the classroom – the rest being white.

This unsettlingly common view of cash assistance recipients in the U.S. dates back to the 1976 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan popularized a hyperbolic framework for female welfare recipients known as the “welfare queen.” The stereotype is sexist, racist, and belittles the legitimacy of cash assistance programs, criminalizing and disparaging those in need.

While the infamous star of the “welfare queen” narrative, cruising around in her “welfare Cadillac” was nowhere to be found by the national media, the fictional picture of lower class minority women abusing the system that gives them monthly “hand-outs” continues to shape the way Americans think about welfare recipients. Moreover, this misconception adversely affects the largest demographic benefitting from cash assistance – children.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Government, Pennsylvania, Politics, Welfare