Tag Archives: welfare

House sub kills Senate-passed bill to reduce welfare benefits

A Senate-passed bill to reduce the lifetime limit for welfare payments in Tennessee has been killed in a House subcommittee after the panel was told the cut would not save the state any money and could send some children into state custody.

After hearing testimony from officials of the Department of Human Services and Stewart Clifton, speaking for a social workers organization, the House Finance Subcommittee rejected the measure (HB2061) on voice vote. It would have reduced from five years to four years the maximum time a person can received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits, with some exceptions.

Officially, it was postponed until January, 2015, on motion of House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley. That effectively kills the bill, which had passed the Senate 21-9 on Monday.

DHS officials told the committee that Tennessee pays TANF with a federal block grant. Any money saved by shutting off benefits a year early for some recipients, they said, would mean shifting those funds into related programs, such as one providing child care for welfare recipients doing the jobs required for payment or attending training classes.

“We’re reducing this program and it’s not saving the state of Tennessee a dollar,” said Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, who led criticism of the measure.

The average TANF payment in Tennessee is $185 a month, lower than all other states except Mississippi and unchanged since the 1990s. Clifton said the maximum lifetime payment would be reduced by 20 percent under the proposal, meaning Tennessee would then have the lowest lifetime benefits in the nation.

In Senate debate, California was given as an example of a state that has reduced the lifetime maxium to four months. Actually, Fitzhugh told the committee California only cut the amount of benefit in the fifth year, from $638 per month to $516 and almost all other states – including those in the South – have five-year standards.

Clifton, lobbyist for the Tennessee chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said most people get through job programs and off TANF benefits within four years are in life situations where “they don’t have any other choice.”

Terminating benefits for such people, he said, could leave them “to go underground so no one knows where they are until the children enter state custody.”

Senate votes to cut lifetime welfare benefits, prosecute pregnant moms abusing drugs

The Senate voted Monday to reduce from five years to four the lifetime maximum time that most people can receive welfare benefits and to authorize prosecution of pregnant women who use drugs illegally while pregnant.

The welfare bill (SB2039) was approved 21-9 with the primary subject of debate being two of the exceptions to the four-year limit as proposed by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the bill’s sponsor. Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether exempting victims of domestic violence and individuals diagnosed with both substance abuse problems and mental illness would “encourage negative behavior.”

Campfield said that the domestic violence exception could mean that, for those wishing to avoid a cutoff of benefits to a family member, “all they have to do is beat their wife.” The wife could then report the abuse and be exempted from an end to benefits, he said.

Further, he said, the domestic violence provision, Campfield said, could be “encouraging people to stay in a bad relationship.”

Kelsey said he doubted that anyone would “request it or ask for it (becoming a victim of domestic violence), simply to retain welfare benefits for another 12 months.”

Similarly, Campfield said the other exemption provision appears to be “rewarding people who stay on drugs.” He said it could lead people diagnosed with mental illness – or those dependent upon them – to engage in substance abuse.
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Legislators moving on three fronts to revise welfare benefits

Tennessee lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s welfare program, including a one-year cut to the lifetime limits for receiving welfare payments, reports The Tennessean.

At least three welfare measures are making their way through the General Assembly, including a bill that would cut the lifetime limit on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families for the first time since a five-year cap was set in the mid-1990s. Other legislation would set new requirements for parents on welfare and formalize a system of “welfare avoidance grants” meant to divert people who apply for TANF.

The bills have drawn little attention generally, passing committees this year without any testimony from opponents. The Department of Human Services, which administers the state’s welfare program, has not opposed the bills or endorsed them, though officials have worked behind the scenes to help craft the legislation.

The state Senate approved the first of the three bills Monday night, voting 22-5 to approve Senate Bill 1851. The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Stacey Campfield, is meant to push parents who collect welfare to play a more active role in their children’s schooling. (Note: Previous post HERE)

…Senate Bill 2039 could have a broader impact. It would reduce the lifetime eligibility limit to four years, except for the victims of domestic violence and people with intellectual disabilities, severe physical or learning disabilities, mental illness or substance abuse problems.

“It encourages work among Tennesseans and puts the “temporary” back in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families,” said state Sen. Brian Kelsey, the Germantown Republican sponsoring the bill.

…The third measure, Senate Bill 1837, would set up an alternative program of “welfare avoidance grants” that the Department of Human Services could issue to cover short-term needs. The bill is meant to help people “who encounter a rough patch” stay off welfare, said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

A revised proposal from sponsors of last year’s bill to cut welfare benefits to parents with kids failing in school

Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Vance Dennis, who last year pushed a controversial bill that could have reduced welfare payments to parents whose children performed poorly in school, have a new proposal they say should increase parental involvement in education without any benefit penalties.

As amended prior to approval last week by committees in both the House and Senate, the bill (SB1851) will modify the “personal responsibility plan” that parents receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program must sign.

The new language will require the parent or guardian to either attend two or more parent-teacher conferences per year or attend an eight-hour “parenting class.”
A third option would be to participate “in such support services that the child may need as determined” by a Department of Human Services representative “to overcome any school, family or other barriers that may interfere with the child’s and the family’s ability to be successful,” according to a legislative staff summary.

One version of last year’s bill by the two legislators called for benefit cuts for parents of a children failing a grade unless they attended a teacher conference or attended a parenting class. That measure was debated on the Senate floor, then shelved by Campfield, R-Knoxville, when it became apparent that the measure lacked the votes needed for passage. The senator said at the time he hoped to come back with a revised proposal that could win support.

An earlier version of this year’s bill would have provided incentive payments for parents’ with a child showing improvement in school work. But that was scrapped in committee in favor of simply modifying the “personal responsibility plan.”

Dennis, R-Savannah, and Campfield both said the goal is to increase parental involvement and praised DHS officials for collaborating with them to draft the revised bill.

Campfield’s bill was approved by the Senate Health Committee 5-2 with one member abstaining. Dennis won approval of the House Health Subcommittee on a 6-2 vote.

Bill bans EBT cash dispensing near bail bond, tattoo and body-piercing businesses

The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved a bill to prohibit automatic teller machines located near businesses that provide bail bonds, tattoos or body piercing services from dispensing cash to people with welfare benefit cards.

The measure (SB1699) is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who said it will help assure that welfare “electronic benefit transfer” cards, known by the acronym EBT, are not used in appropriately.

The bill also includes liquor stores and “adult cabarets,” but Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, noted that a bill passed under his sponsorship last year already prohibits use of EBT cards at automatic tellers near those businesses.

The measure was approved 8-0 and now goes to the Senate floor.

TN GOP congressmen solidly behind cutting food stamps

While some groups say additional food stamp cuts would significantly worsen hunger problems, Republican House members from Tennessee argue that the program has enough waste to justify large-scale reductions, reports The Tennessean.

The future of food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — remains the largest sticking point in House-Senate negotiations to finalize a new farm bill before the end of the year.

In September, the House approved a farm bill that cuts almost $40 billion from food stamps over 10 years — about 5 percent a year. The Senate earlier approved a bill that would cut $4 billion over that time.

The cuts would be in addition to the expiration of some benefits that occurred in November. Those had been part of the 2009 economic stimulus package.

At $80 billion a year, food stamps remain the single costliest item in the farm bill. The program serves almost 48 million Americans and 1.34 million Tennesseans — about 20 percent of the state population.

Among House members from Tennessee, all but Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis — the two Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation — voted for the bill making $40 billion in cuts.

Groups such as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank, say cuts of that magnitude would result in denying benefits to 3.8 million low-income Americans in 2014.

…But Tennessee Republicans say any program so large should be able to withstand cuts as part of efforts to reduce federal deficits.

“I continue to support common-sense efforts to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse within the SNAP program,” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper.

“I hope the conferees will strike an appropriate balance that ensures those who truly need benefits will continue to have access to them, while also making necessary reforms to ensure the SNAP program remains solvent. Over the last five years, SNAP spending has increased more than 70 percent. Clearly this trajectory is unsustainable.”

Other Tennessee Republicans said the cuts were justified. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, said it wouldn’t take “a single benefit away from those who truly need government assistance.”
“It simply reforms the SNAP program to serve those most in need while ensuring the fiscal well-being of our nation during these difficult economic times.”

Food Stamp benefits being reduced Nov. 1

Beginning Friday, some 1.3 million low-income Tennessee men, women and children, including an estimated 50,000 military veterans, will see a cut in food stamps as the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s temporary benefit boost ends Nov. 1.

Further from the Chattanooga TFP:
The state’s Department of Human Services says the reductions are caused by the end of the federal government’s short-term boost in monthly Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits during the recession.

A Tennessee family of four receiving the maximum allotment will see their monthly SNAP benefit cut 5.4 percent or $36, going from $668 to $632, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

Hunger activists and others have called it a “food cliff” that millions nationwide face. Conservative Republicans have criticized the program’s high levels of recipients and emphasized the recession-related increase was supposed to be temporary.

According to the state DHS’ Sept. 13 figures, there were 680,808 Tennessee families of all sizes receiving SNAP benefits. Figures for Hamilton County show 31,135 families, representing 60,274 people in the program in mid-September.

State officials say that on Oct. 1, the federal government’s annual cost-of-living adjustment increased benefits for recipients. But it isn’t covering all the reductions.

Note: News release below
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Audit finds $29,543 in TN welfare payments paid based on false documents

News release from state Comptroller’s office:
A report released today by the Comptroller’s office details how the Tennessee Community Services Agency (TNCSA) management failed to detect and prevent clients from falsifying work activity documentation to receive their cash benefits.

The Comptroller’s Division of State Audit found that clients fraudulently received $29,543 in benefits based on falsified documentation.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, known as the Families First program in Tennessee, is a federal grant program funded through the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The TANF program, designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency, includes providing cash benefits to eligible families. To receive cash benefits, recipients must participate in work activity if the Tennessee Department of Human Services determines that they are able.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services contracted with Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation (Seedco) and Seedco subcontracted with TNCSA to provide case management services to TANF clients in Shelby County. Through its Employment Solutions program, TNCSA management was responsible for ensuring TANF clients were engaged in required work activities in order to obtain and maintain their benefits.

Comptroller’s auditors determined that:
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Roe proposes to allow purchase of healthy food only with food stamps

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would require people using federal food stamps to buy only healthy food, according to The Hill blog.

The Healthy Food Choices Act, H.R. 3073, reflects a long-standing criticism that the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows people to buy billions of dollars worth of junk food.

A 2012 study found that food stamps enable about $2 billion worth of junk food purchases each year, and that more than half of all SNAP benefits are used to buy sugary drinks.

Efforts to curb these purchases have been opposed by anti-hunger groups. But Roe said some states are already exploring ways to curb junk food purchases through the SNAP program, and argued that the federal government needs to take steps as well.

…Under Roe’s bill, food purchased under SNAP would have to meet the same guidelines that food purchased under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program already have to meet. The WIC guidelines are strict, and are made up of several different standards for products like breakfast cereal milk, vegetables, peanut butter and other foods.

…”As a physician, I realize the importance of healthy eating, and as an obstetrician, I’ve seen how the WIC program helps empower families receiving assistance to use taxpayer dollars to purchase healthy, wholesome foods,” he said.
“If these guidelines are good and healthy enough for women and children, then SNAP recipients should also benefit from adhering to the same standards.”

PAC Produces Humane ‘Scorecard for Legislators

Humane Tennessee PAC has issued a “scorecard” for state legislators based on their “support and promotion of animal welfare legislation.”
The ratings are based on votes involving six bills — three the PAC supported and three it opposed — with extra points added or subtracted for other activities.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, for example, got extra points for holding a news conference to denounce the so-called “ag gag” bill that the group opposed.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the lowest rated legislators were the sponsors of that bill, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville. The measure, which required anyone making pictures or video of livestock abuse to turn it over to law enforcement authorities promptly, passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Joining them on the “paws down” list were Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport and Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey; Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains.
Ranking high on the list were Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, sponsors of a bill increasing the penalty for cockfighting. The Humane PAC supported the bill, which was killed in a Senate floor vote with Niceley leading the verbal opposition.
Besides them and Johnson, others given high ratings were Reps. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet; Mike Stewart, D-Nashville; and Curry Todd, R-Collierville, along with Sens. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; and Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
The PAC was established in late 2010 and, insofar as donating to campaigns goes, has not been very active. It has given just $3,500 to candidates since being created — including $1,000 to Ketron and $500 to Lundberg — and had a balance of $1,214 in its last report, according to the Registry of Election Finance.