A Pennsylvania House bill seeks to limit the amount of TANF assistance that low-income women receive based on the amount of children they give birth to while covered under the program.
Despite the fact that low-income women who give birth to children would logically need increased assistance to care for their larger family, Pennsylvania lawmakers — State Reps. Rose Marie Swanger (R), Tom Caltagirone (D), Mark Gillen (R), Keith Gillespie (R), Adam Harris (R), and Mike Tobash (R) — don’t want their state’s welfare program to provide additional benefits for that newborn. If a woman gives birth to a child who was conceived from rape, she may seek an exception to this rule so that her welfare benefits aren’t slashed, but only if she can provide proof that she reported her sexual assault and her abuser’s identity to the police
Aside from punishing women who have children — particularly low-income women who may not have reliable access to affordable contraception — the proposed bill perpetrates a dangerous attitude toward survivors of sexual assault. Forcing women to prove the legitimacy of their sexual assault, and warning them about the serious consequences of “crying rape” to cheat the system, puts forth the misguided assumption that victims of sexual violence are not to be believed. Furthermore, countless women choose not to report their rapists to the police because they fear repercussions from their abusers, who could threaten their lives. An estimated 54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities.
Take note of the names of these state representatives, who seem to feel that attacking those with no political power is a great way to boost their conservative credentials. This is particularly ill-making in the case of Thomas Caltagirone, the lone Democrat to sponsor the bill. He represents parts of Berks and Reading counties and has a pretty conservative legislative record. But this is beyond the pale.
The bill has been referred to the House Human Services Committee which is chaired by Gene DiGirolamo (R), who is usually quite decent on social services issues. Hopefully, this nasty little bill will be left to languish and die. But it wouldn’t hurt to make some phone calls to Human Services Committee members to make sure of it.
UPDATE: Three sponsors of the bill, including leader Rep. RoseMarie Swanger and Caltagirone, have backed away from the bill. Caltagirone’s spokesperson said his name “had been placed on the bill in error.” But Swanger’s excuse is even more absurd. After arguing for the bill in language that demonstrates an apparent ignorance of the complexities of sexual assault (“Why wouldn’t you report rape?”). She then called The Inquirer back in within three hours:
Swanger said that Pennsylvania House researchers had adapted the language in her bill from an older piece of Pennsylvania legislation. Then they “put my name on it.”
She added, “I didn’t check,” the three-page bill.
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