A quick follow up on the bill championed, and then quickly dropped, last week by five PA state reps. The bill would have punished low-income women who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (the anemic remnants of the New Deal cash welfare program Clinton gutted), by lessening the amount of benefits a woman would receive for each additional child born. The bill seems to be trading on the ugly politics of Reagan’s imaginary “Welfare queens”: Poor women who supposedly just have children to take advantage of government benefits. We covered some of most extreme language in the bill last week, which many of the reps have now abandoned. (The PA bill would have forced women to prove they had been raped in order to get an exemption from the benefit cap).
But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this law come back, sans the rape language. As The Nation’s Bryce Covert points out in a blog post (which links to our initial commentary on the topic), such poor-bashing laws are common, as is generally terrible policy language around rape.
The bad news is that Pennsylvania was simply following a trend. At my request, Joan Entmacher of the National Women’s Law Center calculated that as of July 2010, 17 states had “family cap” policies that limit the amount of TANF assistance available to mothers who have children while receiving benefits. When Ann Romney stays at home to raise her five boys, financed by her family’s wealth and income, we revere her as the pinnacle of womanhood and a hardworking American. When a poor mother has five boys, we punish her by denying her the benefits she needs to keep them healthy and happy.
Once again, Pennsylvania is sadly not alone. Many states require parents to cooperate with child support enforcement to receive child care assistance, often to establish paternity and provide accurate information. Last month, the Children, Youth and Families Department of New Mexico decided to pull a Todd Aiken and considered an amendment to this policy that would exempt victims of “forcible rape” from having to file child support claims against the absent parent. And even worse, a bunch of states already use this language. According to Entmacher, at least four states list forcible rape as one potential reason for an exemption: Colorado, Idaho, Maryland and Rhode Island, with varying levels of detail about how a woman should go about proving that her rape is “legitimate.”