The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission strongly supports continued funding for Families First as part of a strong commitment to move people from welfare rolls to meaningful employment.
In 1996 Congress passed a welfare reform law that replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The program allows for a federally set five year life-time limit on benefits and are conditioned on minimum work requirements of 20 hours per week for parents or guardians of pre-school children and 30 hours a week for parents or guardians of older children. Cash assistance levels average 50% of the federal poverty line for each family size. The amount of funding received by the states for job training, work experience, cash assistance, and child day care is frozen at the 1996 level.
Families First, the TANF program in Tennessee, began officially in 1998. This program has supported eligible families as they transition in to the work force. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission strongly supports continued and expanded funding of this valuable program. We believe strongly that several components of this program must be addressed in the future. The state legislators must be aware of these important issues concerning re-authorization of TANF in the next Federal Congressional cycle that will affect the state program.
Work Requirements: It does not make sense to increase work requirements for mothers at a time when our economy has lost so many jobs and long-term unemployment rates are at an all time high since the early 1980's. The government should recognize the value of the mothers' work in the home caring for small children. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission endorses limitations on work requirements for parents or guardians of those under the age of six.
Education and Training: According to a study from Vanderbilt University, a parent with two children must earn at least $19 an hour to support the children. Mothers who left Families First in 1999 had a median wage of $7.15 per hour and were unlikely to receive health care coverage or paid sick leave from their employers. Studies show that each year of additional schooling a welfare recipient receives corresponds to a 7 percent increase in wages. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission supports provisions to allow parents to count education and training as a primary work activity for up to a maximum of 24 months depending on the individual career track.
Treatment of Substance abuse and Mental Health Problems: Barriers to employment among welfare recipients are a growing concern given work requirements and time limits on welfare receipt. Substance abuse and mental health issues are among the many problems that can interfere with employment and job retention. Studies show that between 10 and 20 percent of Families First recipients have a substance abuse problem and roughly one-fourth have a serious mental health problem. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission supports allowing parents to complete up to 12 months of treatment before they are required to make the transition to work
Day Care Funding: For parents and guardians to be able to seek work and training for future work adequate day care services must be available. This is a serious roadblock for many. They can not leave their children to seek work and thus remain dependent on subsidies. The TennesseeCatholic Public Policy Commission endorses adequate availability and affordability of subsidized day care services for parents who are working or in training.