Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, tells reporters on April 8 that he has reservations about a bill moving in the state Legislature that would tie a students school attendance and achievement to the cash welfare payment that child’s parents receive from the government. Under proposals in the House and Senate — the latter of which is sponsored by Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield — if the parent of low-performing student didn’t respond to requests from the school to meet and work with teachers to improve the child’s attendance and effort, the family could face up to a 30 percent reduction in financial assistance they receive through the government’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The House legislation is sponsored by Savanah Republican Vance Dennis. Democrats have accused Republicans of racism and trying to “starve” low-income children.

Haslam: “My concern has been (that) whenever we want to have a cause-and-effect, we want to make certain that there really is a direct link there in the relationship. I think that there are too many other reasons that could cause a child to struggle in school beyond just a parent’s lack of involvement. Parent’s involvement is a key, and we all think that. And we’re all working hard to have more parental involvement in children’s education. But to have that direct link there, when there are so many other factors, is worrisome to me.”

The bill calls for a 30 percent cut in TANF benefits for the parent of a failing child. The maximum benefit for a single mother with two children is 5 per month, which Johnnie Turner said compared to the 3 that state legislators get each day as a “per diem” expense allowance when the General Assembly is in session.

A spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Human Services told a state legislative committee discussing the bill April 9 that about 53,000 families in the state receive TANF payments.

TANF is a federally allocated block-grant program administered by the states. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is designed to “help move recipients into work and turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance.”

HHS states on its TANF webpage: “Under the welfare reform legislation of 1996, TANF replaced the old welfare programs known as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program, and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program. The law ended Federal entitlement to assistance and instead created TANF as a block grant that provides States, Territories, and Tribes Federal funds each year. These funds cover benefits and services targeted to needy families.”
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