Testimony on House Bill 1479 (Changes to TANF Requirements for New Mothers)

To: House Human Services CommitteeFrom: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1479 (TANF Work Requirements for New Mothers)
Date: January 26, 1999

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports House Bill 1479.

The first months of a child's life are crucial to his or her well-being and every child deserves to be with a parent during this time. It is, therefore, appropriate to change the conditions for temporarily excusing a parent from TANF work requirements so that the parent can care for a child under eight months of age. It affirms the importance of children and parenting.

Perhaps the most common argument heard in favor of short exemptions is that such relief from work is not available to most working parents. At first glance, this argument sounds appealing to our sense of fairness. On further examination, however, it fails on several points. First, we accomplish little by lowering societal expectations for the sake of perceived fairness. The fact that some parents do not receive comparable parental leave proves an injustice done to them, not reason to do it to others. Second, the argument fails to recognize that the poor have the single most urgent claim on our conscience and our policies. This is what is meant by the Christian tradition of giving priority concern for the poor. Third, the argument fails to recognize that since federal law limits the total number of months available for the exemption in a life-time to twelve, any parent with parental leave from an employer would have more, not less, excused time than any parent receiving TANF.

We also realize that competing interests are involved here, such as the desire to move recipients into work as soon as possible, reduce welfare assistance, and strengthen the economy. However, every part of our welfare system should strengthen families and do what is best for children. This principle should prevail over all others.

We urge a Do Pass recommendation.