Welfare Reform Must Aim to Eliminate Poverty and Protect Civil Rights; Current Legislation Not Up to Task, ACLU Says

February 13, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Saying that an effective welfare system must have poverty reduction as its highest priority, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned Congress that welfare reform legislation set for consideration this afternoon in the House is not up to the task and would, in many cases, open doors in the states to significant violations of the core civil liberties of welfare recipients.

“While it’s true that the number of people on the welfare rolls has decreased, many of the neediest recipients have been denied aid unfairly and without due process,” said LaShawn Y. Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

“Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to Constitutional rights,” Warren added. “Reauthorizing legislation must implement adequate safeguards to guarantee basic constitutional principles of equal protection, freedom of speech and religion, privacy rights, and due process in the administration of TANF programs, regardless of the economic status of the recipient.”

The House is set today to consider the Personal Responsibility, Work and Family Promotion Act of 2003 (HR 4), which would reauthorize part of the 1996 welfare reform plan known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a block grant created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 as part of a federal effort to reform welfare.

This year’s reauthorization legislation is a combination of several different bills but closely resembles the Administration’s welfare reform proposal.

The ACLU has pointed to several troubling provisions in the bill under consideration. Most notably, the bill contains a waiver provision that would permit the elimination of important protections for people served by federal programs like public housing. Not only does the bill fail to address the deficiencies of the current system that hamper welfare recipients’ efforts to become self-sufficient, the ACLU said, it actually exacerbates existing problems in TANF by increasing work requirements and penalties, and by limiting education, training, counseling and treatment.

More on the civil liberties concerns in welfare reform can be found at:

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