From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Religious leaders push for better welfare

Date 26 Jun 2002 15:02:35 -0400

Note #7328 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Religious leaders push for better welfare

Urge lawmakers to consider plight of low-income families

by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE - Christian and Jewish leaders are urging federal lawmakers to strengthen the nation's welfare system and help low-income families.

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is one of 21 leaders who have signed a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to begin deliberating this week on a reauthorization bill proposing changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, better known as welfare. 

The 21, who represent various religious denominations and ecumenical and grassroots organizations, are asking the committee to "take into account the challenges facing families at risk of hunger, and struggling to escape poverty."

Others who signed the June 12 letter include the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ.

TANF, which is funded by federal block grants to the states, has been the nation's cash-assistance program for low-income families since 1996, when Congress eliminated the old welfare program. Current TANF legislation expires on Sept. 30.

On May 16, the House of Representatives passed its reauthorization plan, which would increase work requirements, begin block-granting the Food Stamp program, and restrict education and training opportunities for recipients. 

The letter's full text:

" ... and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the Lord - and their descendents as well."  Is. 65: 22-23

June 12, 2002

Dear Senator:

We write as leaders of faith communities to acknowledge the work that you and other Senate leaders are undertaking in the reauthorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). We thank you, and we urge you as you shape the reauthorization to take into account the challenges facing families at risk of hunger and struggling to escape poverty.

This moment gives us an opportunity as a nation to ensure that God's abundance, with which we have been blessed, is used to enable families - in this case mothers and children - to move out of poverty and attain self-sufficiency.

We urge you to strengthen TANF in these ways:

* Make poverty reduction a stated goal of TANF, and enact program components that help reduce poverty. Reducing the numbers of families receiving assistance is simply not enough; we must ensure that low-income working families have the chance to raise their families out of poverty.

* Increase the opportunities for TANF participants to get good-paying jobs that enable them to leave poverty behind. We have seen in our congregations' work in the community that recipients must be able to participate in all levels of education and training as an acceptable work activity. Allow adequate time for education (24 months for exclusive participation in education and up to 48 months when combined with work).

This way we can reinforce the wise choices of people who have learned that only additional education will enable them to gain long-term self-sufficiency for their families.

* Give states realistic options for helping families as they transition from welfare to work. On a daily basis, our congregational leaders confront the obstacles of TANF recipients whose transition to self-sufficiency is not easy. We urge you to expand the allowable work and work-readiness activities to give states the tools they need to help each family address barriers and move toward independence. Clarify the definition of assistance so that benefits to families who are working will not count against TANF time limits, and give states the option to serve legal immigrant families.

* Ensure that the value of the TANF block grant is adequate to meet the goals of the program. At a minimum, childcare programs need significant funding increases, and the block grant should be increased annually to meet inflation.

Finally, we are disheartened with many aspects of the House-passed TANF bill, and we urge the Senate to take a fresh approach. Thus, we also urge you to:

* Reject a food stamps block grant. The effect of this proposal will almost certainly be to take food off the tables of low-income people and put more families at risk of hunger.

* Reject the "superwaiver" provision. This would allow state and federal officials to circumvent congressional decisions and has the potential for significantly harming families.

The Biblical mandate is clear: We are called to assist poor and hungry people, and especially to provide a better life for children. We believe that government must lead the way in creating that opportunity. Please strengthen TANF in ways that will make it possible for families to leave poverty behind as they work to achieve self-sufficiency.


Bishop John Hurst Adams, Senior Bishop
African Methodist Episcopal Church

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Episcopal Church, USA

The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary, Reformed Church in America

Dr. Richard Hamm, General Minister and President,
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church, (USA)

Bishop Nathaniel L. Linsey, Senior Bishop
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary
American Baptist Churches, USA

Dr. Glenn Palmberg, President
The Evangelical Covenant Church

The Rev. William Sinkford, President
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Ecumenical Officer,
Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church

The Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President
Union of American Hebrew Congregations

John L. Carr, Secretary
Department of Social Development and World Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Rev. David Beckmann, President
Bread for the World

The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Jose Ortiz, Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee

Hannah Rosenthal, Executive Director
Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Daniel Sokatch, Executive Director
Progressive Jewish Alliance

Kathy Thornton, RSM, National Coordinator
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

The Rev. Jim Wallis, Convener
Call to Renewal
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