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A CALL TO POVERTY REDUCTION IN THE CONTEXT OF
REAUTHORIZATION OF TEMPORARY ASSISTANCE TO NEEDY FAMILIES (TANF)

As people of faith and religious commitment, we have always been called to stand with and seek justice for those who are vulnerable or living in poverty. This is central to our religious traditions, sacred texts, and teachings. We share a conviction, therefore, that TANF reauthorization should focus on poverty reduction, not caseload reduction.

People are more than the sum of their economic activities. TANF must provide more than economic incentives and disincentives; and, as a people, we must overcome biased assumptions that feed negative social stereotypes about those living in poverty. The ultimate success of TANF depends upon finding not only a common ground of policies, but a common spirit about the need to pursue them for all.

The outpouring of generosity that has followed recent disasters has refreshed our nation’s concept of the Common Good. Although there is a risk that some essential government programs to help low-income people will receive reduced funding in order that resources can be diverted to pay for other essential services, it is our belief that the government has both the capacity and the responsibility to develop just public policy and provide sufficient resources to maintain a basic safety net for the protection of people in need that will be available at all times. The government and non-profit and religious communities must work together in order to reduce poverty and increase self-sufficiency. Charity can supplement, but it cannot and should not replace the role of government.

In the robust economy of the last several years, TANF -- combined with the increased availability of jobs -- has significantly reduced the number of people on the welfare rolls throughout the nation. There is, however, unfinished business with regard to those who have left the rolls. Many have jobs that do not provide a family-sustaining wage. At the same time, many have lost the supportive services that are essential to maintaining their households, so that they are often poorer than they were on welfare. TANF must continue to provide work supports for people moving into the workforce but earning low wages. Congress should provide more funds for TANF to ensure its ability to act as both a work support program and a safety net for those for whom work is not an option. A strong and reliable safety net is more essential than ever at times of disaster.

We recognize the benefit to the entire community of helping people move from welfare to work when possible and appropriate. Acknowledging current economic realities, however, we believe that TANF reauthorization must be undertaken in the context of market issues, including unemployment and inadequate wages. There are also important family issues such as strengthening families to assure that children are raised in a healthy home environment, caring for a disabled child or family member, the availability of affordable high quality child care and the economic value of care-giving in the home. It is important to acknowledge that 72 percent of the TANF caseload is children whose well-being depends on that of their parents.

Reducing poverty will depend on addressing these concerns along with a range of related issues such as safe and affordable housing, equitable wages, education and training, and access to transportation and health care. Meeting these basic human needs would benefit the whole community by giving all people the opportunity to reach their potentials.

The following principles address poverty reduction in the context of TANF reauthorization. 

PRINCIPLES

For TANF to be effective in reducing poverty, it should meet the following principles. It must:

1. Insure that poverty reduction is a central goal. All TANF policies must work together to enable recipients and their families to leave poverty and achieve self-sufficiency. For example, cash benefits combined with wages and supportive services must be sufficient to allow each family to meet its basic needs.

2. Provide sufficient federal and state funding. Funding for TANF should at a minimum be indexed to the rate of inflation. Continuation of state maintenance of effort should be required.

3. Acknowledge the dignity of work, eliminate barriers to employment and provide training and education necessary for unskilled workers to get and hold jobs. Participation in post-secondary education should count as work. Supportive services provided should include child care, transportation, and ancillary services to make participation possible and reasonable.

4. Continue and encourage public/private partnerships to train workers and help them find jobs. If public jobs are created, they should lead to family-sustaining wages, comply with workplace protection laws, and not displace current workers. States should provide means by which employment programs can be evaluated at the local level for effectiveness and fairness.

5. Allow TANF recipients to retain a substantial portion of wage earnings and assets before losing cash, housing, health, child-care, food assistance or other benefits. In no case should former TANF recipients receive less in combined benefits and income as a result of working than they received while they were on TANF.

6. Be available to all people in need. Legal immigrants should have access to the same benefits that are available to citizens. Those who receive benefits should receive them according to their needs and for as long as the need exists.

7. Not impose time limits on people who are complying with the rules of the program. It is the state’s responsibility to assure access to counseling, legal assistance, and information on eligibility for child support, job training and placement, medical care, affordable housing, food programs, and education.

8. Acknowledge the responsibility of both parents and government to provide for the well-being of children. TANF should insure that children benefit from the active and healthy participation of parents -- whether custodial or not -- in their lives. The barriers to participation by married parents in federal programs should be removed. There should be no family caps and no full-family sanctions. Children should benefit from successful state efforts to collect child support assistance from non-custodial parents through increasing the amount of collected child support that children receive.

9. Address the needs of individuals with special situations. People who have been victims of domestic violence or stalking must be protected and have their privacy maintained. Some with disabling conditions may need extended periods of time to become employable; and it must be recognized that some people cannot or should not work under any circumstances.

10. Uphold and affirm every person’s value, whether employed or not. In compassion, we recognize that a small proportion of people on TANF may never be in a position to work outside the home. Exemptions should be offered for people with serious physical or mental illness, disabling conditions, or responsibilities as caregivers who work at home. States should have the option to use federal funds to help families to cope with multiple barriers to employment.

The following organizations have endorsed
"A Call to Poverty Reduction
in the Context of Reauthorization of
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)"
(as of 3/21/02; list in formation)

American Baptist Churches USA
American Friends Service Committee
Bread for the World
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Korean Presbyterian Church in America
McAuley Institute
Mennonite Central Committee US
National Council of Churches
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Reformed Church in America
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
The Episcopal Church, USA
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of USA, Western Eparchy
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community
Women of Reform Judaism

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