Contact: Shelley Borysiewicz of Catholic Charities USA, 703-236-6218 or sborysiewicz@catholiccharitiesusa.org

ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 19 /U.S. Newswire/ — Ten years after the landmark welfare reform legislation that created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, new regulations set forth recently by Congress and the Administration place unfair burden on married welfare recipients and families struggling to achieve independence, according to Catholic Charities USA.

Despite more than a 50 percent drop in the number of families on public assistance since the overhaul of the nation’s welfare system a decade ago, millions of families continue to live in poverty and struggle every day to make ends meet. Because of high cost of living, lack of a living wage, and the lack of affordable health insurance and housing, Catholic Charities agencies continue to see dramatic increases in the number of families coming to their doors for the most basic needs, such as food, clothing, and rent and utility assistance.

Recent regulations issued by the federal government will only serve to add to the burdens facing thousands of low-income families and reverse the progress made by millions toward self sufficiency, says Catholic Charities USA, which represents more than 1,700 local Catholic Charities agencies and institutions nationwide. The new rules significantly restrict education and training opportunities and will limit the positive programs states and their community partners such as Catholic Charities have developed to help low-income families transition to the workforce.

During the early years of welfare reform, states were given the flexibility that allowed them to help millions of families find employment. But even during the robust economic conditions of the late 1990s, only welfare recipients with the fewest employment barriers were able to find employment. And most of them were employed in low-paying jobs with limited benefits or mobility. Over the last 10 years, research has shown that the most effective path to self-sufficiency for TANF recipients is through a combination of work and education. Today, states are experiencing more challenges in helping families find sustainable employment because current welfare recipients are more likely to have substantial barriers to employment.

According to Catholic Charities USA, the new federal regulations go too far in restricting work activities for families on TANF. "If we are going help low-income families make a permanent transition to self-sufficiency, we must provide them with sufficient opportunities to gain the necessary skills to do so. These new rules restrict the ability of hard working low-income people to quickly move forward to better jobs," said Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

These changes to the TANF law overlook the enormous challenges faced by parents with little education and no marketable skills by further restricting access to education and training. These parents will remain unemployable or marginally employed without improved opportunities to gain new skills. Those who need to participate in treatment of mental health and substance abuse problems will continue to experience barriers to their full and successful participation in family life.

Catholic Charities USA is also concerned that the new law places an additional burden on married TANF recipients by requiring that they work at a higher rate than single recipients. The increase will limit the ability of states to serve low-income married families and will require many parents to find second jobs to meet the work requirements as well as piece together additional child care and transportation.

"The TANF program was created with a primary goal of encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families," said Rev. Snyder. "Unfortunately, the new rules set forth seem to contrast one another in terms of promoting marriage. While the new law provides $100 million to promote marriage and family formation among TANF receipts, it hurts the stability of married recipients and their families by unfairly requiring them to do more."

Catholic Charities USA is also very concerned that if parents are unable to fully participate in certain work activities set forth in the new rules, states will have no choice but to immediately cut benefits for vulnerable children.

"The idea of penalizing children for their parents’ inability to meet unreasonable and unrealistic work requirements is unconscionable. While Catholic social teaching emphasizes the importance of work as a means of participating in society, it’s wrong to teach this ethic by bargaining with the well-being and safety of children," said Father Snyder.

As Congress and the administration hold hearings in Washington, DC, and cities throughout the country over the next several weeks to mark the 10th anniversary of welfare reform, Catholic Charities USA is calling on the administration and Congress to support policies that strengthen marriage and provide better opportunities for vulnerable families to develop the skills necessary to be independent.

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Catholic Charities USA’s members-more than 1,700 local agencies and institutions nationwide-provide help and create hope for 7.1 million people a year regardless of religious, social, or economic background. For more than 275 years, local Catholic Charities agencies have been providing a myriad of vital services in their communities, ranging from day care and counseling to food and housing. For more information, visit http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.

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