Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Opposes Bush Administration Proposal for TANF Reauthorization

Media 03.5,02

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s largest, oldest, and most diverse coalition of civil and human rights organizations, today urged the Bush Administration to rethink its proposal for reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program (TANF). Wade Henderson, Executive Director of LCCR, affirmed that “any welfare reauthorization proposal must adhere to fundamental principles of equality, fairness, and social justice, and increase the chances for all families in need to move permanently out of poverty.” The Bush Administration’s proposal for TANF reauthorization, according to Henderson, “simply misses the mark.”

Last week, the Bush Administration put forth a proposal for the welfare reform bill which must be reauthorized by Congress this year. LCCR believes that the proposal would force welfare participants, who are already struggling to make ends meet, to work more hours with fewer work supports. As presented by the Administration, the proposal suggests potentially removing protections against sub-minimum wages and job discrimination and offers few measures for real accountability to evaluate how well states are doing in meeting the diverse needs of families. This is hardly a formula for success.

o The Bush proposal would require welfare clients to work more hours, yet it ignores the practical implications, such as an increased need for child care, education and training. It would place new pressures on states to meet higher work participation rates without increasing funding for the support clients need to stay on the job.

o The plan suggests that it may resurrect the debate about whether welfare clients should be paid the minimum wage and be protected from job discrimination. But forcing welfare clients to become “second class workers” is not reform ? it’s bad policy and has no place in a serious discussion about moving participants from welfare to work. Workplace rights are not expendable commodities. Unfair wages, unsafe conditions, and unfair treatment are not tolerable simply because the worker is a welfare recipient.

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o Bush’s plan says little about greater state accountability to ensure that clients, particularly those from diverse racial and ethnic communities, have equal access to the full range of programs and services. It is essential to have data broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender in order to find out what types of services are received by different clients. Resources must be targeted to reach clients with unique challenges, such those with language barriers and disabilities, or to train clients for jobs in higher-paying non-traditional fields. A fair process must be in place for clients to access services, or seek redress when problems arise.

o Bush’s plan also fails to redress the five year ban on benefits for legal immigrants. The Administration earlier proposed to restore food stamp subsidies for immigrants and yet it is prepared to continue denying TANF benefits to these communities which simply makes no sense. Immigrants work hard, pay taxes and are eligible to serve in the military, yet, under the President’s proposal, they would continue to be ineligible for the TANF safety net.

If our commitment to help families escape poverty is real, then our solutions must be grounded in a realistic understanding of the challenges faced by communities in need. Unfortunately, as Henderson stated, the Bush Administration’s proposal simply misses the mark.