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INTERRELIGIOUS WORKING GROUP ON DOMESTIC HUMAN NEEDS

                                                                                                July 23, 2003

Dear Senator:

As the Senate Finance Committee prepares to mark up legislation to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, we urge you to call for TANF reauthorization that seeks to reduce poverty as its primary goal.  This goal is urgent in today’s economy. 

The signatories to this letter represent denominations and faith-based organizations that collectively serve millions of Americans.  Over the past few years, we have consistently worked to share our priorities regarding TANF reauthorization with Members of Congress.  These priorities were selected in keeping with our faith traditions, which consistently express concern for the most vulnerable members of society, including members of our own communities and congregations.  Our faith traditions require both individual and social responsibility when addressing the needs of people who are poor.  We believe that the suggestions that follow will lead to the reduction of poverty among TANF recipients, allowing their families to achieve greater economic stability.

Some of our priorities are reflected in the draft outline for TANF reauthorization, prepared by the majority staff of the Senate Finance Committee, including:

  • Improving child support by adopting provisions from Senator Snowe's child support bill,
  • Excluding the superwaiver, which if adopted, would threaten the effectiveness and integrity of crucial work support programs for poor families,
  • Excluding full family sanctions,
  • Supporting the concept of allowing caring for a child or adult family member with a physical or mental impairment to count as work, though the standards are too restrictive and currently would exclude caring for a disabled spouse or a dependent receiving SSI or SSDI,
  • Including the concept of universal engagement, and
  • Eliminating the 2-parent rate.

However, we are extremely disappointed that the Committee’s draft outline fails to address several of our major concerns.  We are especially alarmed that it fails to include adequate funding for child care, the restoration of benefits for immigrants, necessary expansion for education and training, and the maintenance of the current work requirement, particularly the work requirement for parents of pre-school children.

We urge you to call for the following changes to the Senate Finance Committee’s draft:

  • Increase funding by at least $5.5 billion to meet child care needs.  A recent study found that even without any increased costs associated with new work requirements, an estimated 220,000 children in low income working families will lose child care assistance by 2006, with the number rising to 361,000 by 2008.  The study estimates that over $5.5 billion would be needed just to meet current needs.
  • Support the restoration of full benefits to immigrants, including access to federal TANF money, SCHIP and Medicaid services, child care, and appropriate education and training.  At the very least, allow states the option to use TANF block grant funds to serve documented immigrants.  Immigrants make vital contributions to our nation as taxpayers, workers, and neighbors.
  • Retain the current work requirement of 20 hours per week for parents of pre-school children.
  • Retain the current work requirement of 30 hours per week because it fits the realities of the low-wage labor market and because the state fiscal crises have made it extremely difficult to obtain work.  Increasing the work requirement would also create bureaucratic problems in reporting and would be too hard for the states to enforce. 
  • Expand access to education and training by allowing it to count toward the core work hours for 24 months and by removing the 30% cap.  Maine's "Parents as Scholars" program, which research has shown to be among the most effective paths toward economic stability, is a good model for counting postsecondary education as a work activity. 
  • Review personal and structural barriers that affect TANF recipients’ ability to work before imposing sanctions.  A single barrier may prevent successful employment, and over one-third of TANF recipients must overcome three or more barriers.  For instance, the Committee’s draft allows only 3 months for treatment to overcome severe barriers to employment to count in the core 24 hours.  This is arbitrary and inadequate; states should be allowed to count activities to overcome barriers toward the core requirement for longer than 3 months.

We look forward to your response.  If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact Carolynn Race with the Presbyterian Church (USA) at (202) 543-1126 or Yonce Shelton with Call to Renewal at (202) 328-8745.

Sincerely,

American Baptist Churches USA

American Friends Service Committee

Bread for the World

Call to Renewal

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Christian Church (Disciples) Division of Homeland Ministries

Church of the Brethren Washington Office

Church Women United

The Episcopal Church, USA

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

The Interfaith Alliance

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office

Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society

 

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