ACLU Says Current Welfare Reform Measure Ineffective, Calls for Civil Rights Protections, Better Poverty Elimination Efforts

September 10, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Finance Committee considers a key welfare reauthorization bill, the American Civil Liberties Union today reiterated its insistence that an effective welfare system must have poverty reduction as its highest priority. The ACLU also said that the welfare reform legislation would, in many cases, open doors in the states to significant violations of the core civil liberties of welfare recipients.

“”At a time of growing unemployment and poverty, states have an incentive – and this bill will allow them – to deny benefits to those who need it most,”” said LaShawn Y. Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”The solution to getting people out of the cycle of poverty is not to prematurely kick them off welfare. Too many have been denied aid unfairly, creating a false impression that the number of people who need help has decreased.””

The Senate committee is to vote on the “”Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone”” Act which would reauthorize the 1996 welfare reform bill or the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF was created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 as part of a federal effort to reform welfare.

The ACLU said that the current version of TANF fails to ensure that social service programs operate without discrimination. There have been numerous and increasing reports of the disparate treatment that minorities receive from caseworkers. This problem stems in part from a lack of proper data collection, the ACLU said. The TANF reauthorization contains no provisions that require proper monitoring of the implementation of programs to ensure that all recipients are treated fairly, and are given access to similar benefits, access to education and training and job opportunities.

Health care also remains a contentious issue, as the current version of the legislation maintains restrictions prohibiting states from allocating TANF funds to provide health coverage to immigrant children and pregnant women. These and similar provisions add to concerns that TANF programs fail to be administered in a fair and equitable manner.

Another controversial provision provides financial incentives for unmarried couples to wed and for married couples to stay together. Advocates from across the political spectrum fear that this would waste limited federal and state dollars on an unproven policy, interfere with the fundamentally private decision to marry and inappropriately limit states’ flexibility in implementing social programs. It could also lead to individuals in abusive relationships to remain together for financial purposes.

“”TANF in this form not only fails to address the current problems with the welfare system – it makes matters worse,”” Warren added. “”It fails to protect freedom of speech and religion, privacy rights, equal protection and due process, and fails to help people get off government aid and becoming self sufficient.””

The ACLU’s letter to the Senate Finance Committee on TANF Reauthorization can be found at:

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