Welfare Must Work at Eliminating Poverty, Protecting Civil Rights; ACLU Warns Senate Most Reform Schemes Not Up to Task
Analysis from the ACLU’s Washington National Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – Saying that an effective welfare system must have poverty reduction as its highest priority, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned a Senate committee that most current reform plans are not up to the task and would, in many cases, encourage the ongoing state-level violation of welfare recipients’ core civil liberties.
“Welfare reform has been an abject failure, regardless of what its supporters say,” said LaShawn Y. Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The number of people on the rolls has dropped to a significant degree because states are unfairly penalizing recipients and denying them opportunities to challenge any improper withdrawal of benefits.”
“The Senate needs to pay greater attention in its bill to the core American values of fairness, compassion and adherence to the basic freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights,” Warren added.
At issue is legislation set for markup today in the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), that would reauthorize the 1996 welfare reform plan known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a block grant program originally authorized in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 as a part of a federal effort to end welfare.
The bill under consideration today is a compromise measure, introduced by Sens. John Breaux (D-LA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), that includes provisions more generous in child care funding and less onerous in work-requirements than those contained in both the Administration’s welfare reform proposal and a bill passed last month by the House of Representatives (HR 4737). Both the House bill and the President’s proposal were roundly criticized by the ACLU, NAACP and other advocacy groups for provisions that they said would infringe on civil liberties and do little to move Americans out of poverty.
According to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, the bill that will be brought before his committee today will include several provisions that will alleviate poverty while respecting civil liberties. These include, the ACLU said, measures that would (1) give some legal immigrants TANF benefits, (2) require recipients to be given a mandatory skills assessment with the aim of identifying barriers to employment and (3) offer states incentives to place recipients in higher paying jobs. Also noteworthy, the ACLU said, are sections that allow rehabilitative and treatment programs to count toward work requirements and that allow states to funnel child support payments directly to families.
“A compassionate approach to combating poverty — something which is non-existent in the recent House bill — must respect the rights guaranteed under the Constitution to everyone in the United States,” Warren said. “The Senate must take this approach and protect freedom of speech and religion, privacy rights, equal protection and due process.”
Concern has been mounting among the civil liberties and civil rights communities that this year’s welfare reform reauthorization will continue to have a negative impact on those Americans most vulnerable in society and most desperate for tools that allow them to reach self-sufficiency. Specifically, changes in the welfare system disproportionately impact women and children, who comprise the vast majority of welfare recipients.
The negotiations in the Senate have revolved around three distinct legislative approaches to welfare reform. One, proposed by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Thomas Carper (D-DE), was structured much like the problematic House-passed bill and the President’s proposal. Also in play was a tri-partisan bill — backed by Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-VT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John Breaux (D-LA) – that the ACLU says was not as objectionable as the Bayh/Carper measure but still needed work. The Jeffords/Snowe/Breaux proposal provided the framework for the current compromise legislation being marked up in the Senate.
The ACLU has pointed to several provisions in both the Administration’s welfare reform proposal and the legislation passed by the House that are of particular concern and should be avoided in any final Senate bill. Notable among these are measures that would:
More information about the ACLU positions on welfare reform can be found at:
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