Legal Momentum held a Congressional Briefing to discuss the implications highlighted in Legal Momentum Senior Staff Attorney Tim Casey’s recent report The Sanction Epidemic in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. The briefing also provided an opportunity for Legal Momentum to call for the reauthorization and reform of the TANF Program, which has been temporarily extended through December 3, 2010. Though the briefing was held the day after Congress adjourned, the room was packed to capacity. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), Chair of the Income and Family Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, shared remarks on the original impetus behind the TANF Program and the hardships sanctions often cause TANF recipients. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) also joined the panel and shared both her experience as former Wisconsin state senator who tried to stem some of the more draconian aspects of the Wisconsin welfare program and as a former welfare recipient.
Representative Gwen Moore
Legal Momentum Senior Staff Attorney Tim Casey compellingly demonstrated how the federal TANF program perversely grants states incentives to sanction TANF participants. These sanctions can also result in TANF recipients losing other vital benefits, he noted, including Medicaid and Food Stamps.
The panel also discussed the recent numbers from the Census Bureau, released last week, which reveal that nearly 44 million people are living in poverty in the United States – more than any other time during the 51 years in which poverty has been measured. Adult women were also 32% more likely to be poor than adult men. Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever of the National Council on Negro Women drew upon this data and talked about the failure of TANF to act as a safety net during the recession. Kate Kahan from the Center for Community Change drew from her own varied experience as advocate, Senate Finance staffer and former welfare recipient to call for needed structural changes in the TANF law. Pamela Brown, a representative of the grassroots organization Community Voices Heard, shared her personal experiences with receiving TANF benefits, detailing how she was sanctioned when her teenage son’s income was mistakenly attributed to her. And Dr. Vicki Lens of Columbia University offered compelling stories from her research with TANF recipients that highlighted the arbitrary and often erroneous nature of sanctions imposition. Legal Momentum Vice-President for Government Affairs Lisalyn Jacobs moderated the panel and a lively discussion with the audience.