LD 1017 goes too far

Life is full of unexpected events. Sometimes these are welcome and exhilarating; like running in to an old friend or finding money in a coat you haven’t worn all year. Other times unexpected events leave you scrambling; like when your car won’t start or your child is sick or you wash your phone with a load of whites. These stumbles in our daily routines are normal, temporary and easily explained. Hopefully, your employers, coworkers and are sympathetic, because they too have suffered these unexpected events. But what if they weren’t? What if being late to work because of a dead battery or staying home with a sick child caused you to lose your only source of income? These are hypothetical situations that LD 1017, An Act to Strengthen Work Participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families proposes to do.

An Act to Strengthen Work Participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, LD 1017 proposes to remove the ability of a grantee to use any good cause reason to develop a family contract or explain an inability to fulfill work or other requirements requirements. Under current law, an individual may present good cause reasons when developing a family contract or provide good cause reasons when given a notification they are out of compliance. If good cause is determined and the information is provided in a timely manner, their grant will not be effected. It is still up to the discretion of the reviewer whether the good cause reason is valid.

Should the proposed bill be adopted, TANF grant recipients would lose funds without notification and would no longer have the ability to provide good cause reason for non-compliance.

Depriving individuals and families who are already struggling of their primary financial support does not strengthen work force participation. At best it may temporarily force individuals to take temporary or unsustainable work, but it does not create long term job participation or solutions to underemployment or poverty. At it’s worse it continues to shame people who are already on the margins, and put more stress on already strapped churches, communities and non-profits.

We all understand the reasons behind the bill and may agree in many ways that by making penalties for not meeting work and volunteer requirements more stringent it will cull those from the ranks who are using the system without true need. Or it is intended to mirror the responsibility and consequences of holding a job. But TANF/ASPIRE is not a job or a placeholder, it is a last resort that is already designed to be temporary and offers support for people to find gainful employment. When we talk about making the social safety net more efficient and cost effective we must consider if that efficiency comes from actual improvements to the system or creating barriers that keep people from utilizing resources that they truly need. LD 1017 does not strengthen work participation; it pushes people away who are working to make positive changes.

Margaret Hanna