The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.
My very first blog post was about this very question of decency in how we deal with the least among us, and has remained a personal interest. Welfare as it’s typically defined in policy terms is the state-federal program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in the ’96 welfare reform effort. Basically the federal government block-grants funds to the states for assisting low-income individuals and families, to which states must also contribute funds, with these four specific imperatives:
States can use federal TANF and state MOE dollars to meet any of the four goals set out in the 1996 law: “(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families.”
This comes from a policy primer over at the CBPP, which includes this categorical graph of how TANF dollars are spent:
As the primer notes states are given broad leeway in how they administer the program, which is how things like drug-testing and attending PTA conferences get attached to eligibility requirements. It’s worth noting two things here; First, that beyond being the only federal ‘welfare’ program that still offers cash assistance, TANF also sets a lifetime maximum of sixty months (five years, consecutive or not, which most states emulate although about a third set limits lower) and the second is the directive I emphasized in the quote, that TANF “end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.” I get the impression that most folks have no idea about the former and Republicans keep forgetting they already won the war on government dependency (unless you expand the definition of welfare beyond any useful meaning) vis a vie the latter.
I think this is critical context for understanding how particularly cruel these additional state requirements are in Tennessee and elsewhere. Legislators and advocates are essentially telling poor residents that destitution isn’t bad enough for them, that their stigmatization isn’t sufficiently codified into law, that the whole TANF process isn’t demeaning enough in your effort to gain benefits that are already “50 percent of the poverty line in all states.” If you’re at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and your child isn’t doing well in school, Tennessee wants to punish you by leaving you poorer. If you’re impoverished and use illegal drugs many states want you to stay indigent and looking for psychotropic escape. Such efforts do not “strengthen welfare,” but effectively represent state-imposed floggings meant to dissuade participation. For all intents and purposes these are poverty punishment policies.