From the Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians (http://www.papovertycoalition.org):
June 29, 2012 –The Coalition for Low-Income Pennsylvanians today expressed dismay regarding newly-issued amendments to the Welfare Code bill that is part of Pennsylvania’s 2012-13 budget. These amendments will make it harder for poor parents of minor children to obtain Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance from state welfare offices. The new language requires applicants to apply for three jobs a week while the application is pending, without any provision for child care or transportation subsidies to facilitate the job search. When similar pre-approval job search requirements were implemented in Georgia, the cash assistance caseload declined dramatically as family poverty increased.
The amendments are to H.B. 1261, which is moving quickly through the General Assembly to implement budget changes enacted separately. The new language – revealed for the first time this morning – would add a draconian new requirement for applicants for TANF, and change the rules for punishing welfare recipients who do not comply with work requirements.
The new language requires applicants for TANF to apply for three jobs a week while their application is pending, unless they establish good cause. There is no provision for impoverished single parents to get help with child care or transportation money while they search for those jobs. It is unclear how already-overwhelmed welfare office staff will inform applicants of the ability to claim good cause, or whether the absence of child care or transportation will be deemed to constitute good cause.
The new language also requires that, before a welfare-to-work sanction is lifted, the sanctioned parent maintain compliance with welfare-to-work requirements for at least a week. But it does not provide any mechanism for participants to receive a child care subsidy or transportation funds in that time, though these supports are typically necessary for compliance.
“These new provisions will make it much harder for single mothers of young children to get the cash assistance and other supports they need while they look for work,” said Kathy Fisher, co-chair of the Coalition for Low-Income Pennsylvanians and Family Economic Security Director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “Most penniless single mothers cannot look for jobs without a child care subsidy and transportation allowance. There are already strict job search requirements for parents once they start receiving cash assistance. There is no need to add this new requirement.”
“Every year Community Legal Services represents hundreds of single mothers seeking cash assistance. We fear that this new pre-approval job search requirement will lead to our clients being denied needed benefits through no fault of their own. When a pre-application job search requirement was instituted in Georgia, the percentage of cash assistance applications that were approved declined from 51% to 22% in three years. As a result, the TANF caseload declined dramatically, while the number of families living in poverty increased,” added Louise Hayes, a supervising attorney at Community Legal Services, a member of the Coalition.
“The public should have had an opportunity to review these changes, which were only made public today. This is not how decisions on critical safety net programs should be made,” concluded Fisher.