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Granite State Rumblings: Congress Takes Votes With Significant Impacts On Working Families

Obama Health Care Speech to Joint Session of Congress House of Representatives (wiki commons)

President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress 2009 (wiki commons)

The United States Congress took several votes last week on policies that will impact children and working families if passed.

Unemployment Insurance

After many weeks of debate and delay, the United States Senate passed a temporary extension of federal unemployment insurance. Retroactive to January 1st, the insurance would help the 2.3 million unemployed jobseekers who suffered the loss of this critical aid, which plunged families into even greater hardship. While an important first step, this measure now needs approval in the House of Representatives. The leadership of that body has no immediate plans to vote on it. They will act only if they hear from you. Click here to contact your Representative and tell him or her to vote to extend these crucial benefits. Type in your information and you will be patched through by phone to your Representative.

2015 Budget

The House of Representatives voted 219-205 in favor of the budget resolution drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. This budget would dramatically cut programs that promote and protect the health, education, and safety of children, particularly those in low-income families. Fortunately, nothing further will happen with this budget. The Senate will not vote on it, and the spending levels for next year were set last December in a House-Senate agreement. The problem is that after this year, the mindless automatic budget cuts Congress calls “the sequester” will come back and attack Head Start, child care, K-12 education, and other vital programs again. Congress has big decisions coming up soon about whether to maintain or strengthen investments in children or cut them back dramatically. We will keep you informed on how you can help defend children.

Paycheck Fairness

The minority in the Senate blocked a vote on a measure to help address the reality that women are paid $10,784 less per year than men – enough to buy groceries for 92 weeks. Women are breadwinners in two-thirds of families and head more than 15 million U.S. households. When women and their families lose thousands of dollars in critical income each year, they have significantly less money to spend on food, gas, rent and other basic necessities. The consequences for America’s children and families are significant. We thank the 53 senators who voted for this. This issue will not go away.

Our Members of Congress are now on recess for two weeks. Please give them a call and ask them their positions on unemployment insurance, the budget, and equal pay.

GROWING UP GRANITE

There have been several pieces of legislation this session around EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards and cash assistance. I am not going to jump into the fray of what should or should not be allowable purchases with an EBT card. A House legislative subcommittee will soon be working on that issue.

I will, however give you some facts. In New Hampshire, needy individuals can receive both food stamps and cash assistance on an EBT card. In order to receive cash benefits through the State’s Financial Assistance to Needy Families program, you have to be either poor and blind; poor and old (over the age of 65); or poor and permanently and totally disabled.

The federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program is available for those who only meet the poverty qualification. TANF can serve needy families for a maximum of 60 months, though the average duration in the Granite State is a little over 18 months. TANF is funded by both the federal and state governments. The maximum TANF grant for a parent with 2 children is $675.00 per month. According to the newest grant to rent report from the Division of Family Assistance, the average rent in NH for an apartment for a household of 3 is $726.00 per month.

So now imagine that you are a mom with two kids and you need to rely on TANF while searching for a new job because the company where you worked for the last 6 years just closed.

  • Your child wants to wear that favorite outfit tomorrow, but it requires a trip to the Laundromat and you don’t have enough quarters for both the washer and the dryer.
  • You spent all of your monthly assistance on rent and utilities and there is no money to buy your child a new outfit right now, so s/he will have to wear the pants and sneakers that are too small just a bit longer.
  • You have to tell your daughter that she isn’t going to play on the softball team with her best friends this year because you can’t afford the registration fee, let alone the glove and cleats.
  • You need to convince your child to join the chorus this year because a musical instrument rental is just not in the cards.
  • Your food stamps assistance won’t be on your EBT card for another 3 days, so brownies for the bake sale aren’t going to happen this time.

These are the realities of life on TANF and food stamps. There is no digging deeper to provide the extras for the kids. The Legislative Task Force to Study the Adequacy of the TANF Grant (HB1461) released these findings in November of 2007:

The Task Force determined that TANF grant levels do not provide adequate opportunities for many parents to get a fair shot at getting a job that enables them to support their children. The costs of housing, child care, food and transportation outstrip the ability of families forced to rely on TANF to pay for them. This makes it more difficult for parents to obtain jobs or to participate in training, education or other activities that would make it more likely they could leave TANF and to provide a safe, secure and healthy family life for their children while making this transition.

Children who live in poverty are often influenced by family stressors that others do not have. It should not be their problem to worry about where money is coming from for their next school trip or groceries next week and yet they do. This can humiliate them further if they are called out for wearing clothes that don’t fit them or are not the current “fad”, or made to feel different when they don’t have the money for school or sports activities.

While the support of friends is beneficial to children, the humiliation of peers pointing out what they are lacking can be devastating.

The effects of a child’s poor self-esteem can influence the quality of their education as well. If they are not feeling confident in their own abilities, it then can influence the outcome of their schoolwork and possibly their future employment prospects. This is one reason why the cycle of poverty in a family from generation to generation can be hard to break.

Before our legislators contemplate any changes to how needy families receive their benefits, it is my hope that they keep in mind that children are involved in the process. While they rightfully believe that they have a responsibility to use taxpayer dollars wisely, they also have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the children.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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