PA Senate Goes Backward, Passes Dangerous TANF Ban

We strongly oppose Senate Bill 6. Read the letter we sent to Pennsylvania Senators urging them to oppose Senate Bill 6.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Senate just passed SB6 by a margin of 40 to nine.

We’d like to thank Pennsylvania Senators Blake, Costa, Farnese, Fontana, Haywood, Hughes, Leach, Schwank, and Tartaglione for supporting women in recovery by opposing this bill.

Senate Bill 6, despite a recent amendment, is still dangerous and counterproductive, and still disproportionately targets mothers struggling to recover from drug addiction, domestic violence survivors and survivors of sexual violence.

Why is SB6 dangerous and counterproductive?

In short, Senate Bill 6 imposes a 10-year ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance for any Pennsylvanian with an addiction that led to certain drug-related felony convictions or guilty pleas. TANF is designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency.

The only people who are potentially eligible for TANF are pregnant women and families with minor children. Ninety percent of the adults who receive TANF support are women.

SB 6 also imposes a $100 fee on families that need a replacement EBT card more than once in a lifetime.  EBT cards are how people get their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) and TANF benefits.

$100 is a huge penalty for a mother working at a low wage job, and struggling to feed her children.  To put it in context, food stamps are only an average of $1.40 per person per meal, and the maximum TANF grant for a mother and child in most parts of Pennsylvania with no other income is only $316/month.  There is no exception for victims of domestic violence, or theft, or homeless families who may have lost belongings during an eviction.

How do we know it wouldn’t work the way it supporters want it to work?

Pennsylvania already experimented with lifetime bans for drug-related felonies, and it backfired.

Before passing Act 44 of 2003, Pennsylvania enforced TANF bans for certain drug-related offenses. The vast majority of those banned for life were women with children. Criminal justice and drug policy experts, together with women’s drug treatment professionals and domestic violence programs, saw from first-hand experience that this lifetime ban on public assistance sabotaged women’s recovery prospects and made the drug problem worse, not better.

With the failure of the TANF ban evident, more than 100 organizations supported the bipartisan reform legislation that reversed it.

Now, fourteen years later, no evidence exists that suggests bringing back bans on public assistance for certain drug-related crimes would not be as disastrous as it was before. Likely, the impact would be even worse, given Pennsylvania is in the throes of a full-fledged opioid addiction epidemic.

Why is Pennsylvania going backwards and refusing to learn from our mistakes?

More puzzling, the legislation currently under consideration by the Pennsylvania Legislature defies expert recommendations published in a recent report ordered by the Legislature.

Last year, the House Majority Policy Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives spoke with dozens of medical experts at public hearings about the opioid crisis, and published a report with recommendations in October, 2016. Experts urged lawmakers to protect multiple pathways to recovery, in part by ensuring they are affordable. That goal is not accomplished by severing safety-net funds to mothers in recovery.

What’s next?

Senate Bill 6 will now go to the House for a vote. We will keep you posted.

Speak Out

Find your state legislators.

Contact your House Representative and urge them to oppose this bill.

Thank your state Senator if he or she voted against Senate Bill 6.

If your Senator voted for SB6, give them feedback on any channel possible: Schedule an in-person meeting, or contact them via phone, text, twitter or Facebook.

Help spread the word by sharing this information.

Find out what else is going on in Pennsylvania right now that needs your attention by checking out the fact sheets on our Info for Advocates page.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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