A new bill in Tennessee has some advocates excited and some disappointed. The bill, if it passes into law, will reduce welfare benefits of parents whose kids are not performing well in school. The bill is being sponsored by two Republicans, Stacey Campfield and Vance Dennis. The legislation “requires the reduction of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments for parents or caretakers of TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school.”
If the child does not maintain satisfactory progress in math and language arts, the family’s welfare benefits will drop by 20 percent. The bill applies primarily to low-income families, leading some to say that it is discriminatory. Rep. Dennis refers to the new law as “a carrot and stick approach,” motivating families with both reward and punishment.
Democratic Senator Gloria Johnson says that the bill discriminates against certain families.
“It’s just one more way to punish families who have fallen on hard times,” Johnson told theGrio. “I don’t believe for a second this will be anything to improve a child’s education.”
Johnson says that the added pressure on the child to make them responsible for family finances is only going to make things worse than they actually are.
“To add the responsibility of the family budget on these kids, it’s not going to help these kids. It’s not going to move them forward,” Johnson said.
The law does possess a few amendments and potential loopholes. For example, students with learning disabilities are excluded, as well as those with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The reductions can also be restored if parents are more involved in their child’s education, such as attending two parent/teacher conferences, eight hours of parenting classes or enrolling their child in summer school or tutoring.
Is it necessarily racist or oppressive to require poor parents to step up to the plate like the rest of us? When a parent doesn’t care and neither does their child, does it always make sense to reward them for sitting at home and watching TV all day? Supporters of the law say that it’s time to make a change and try a new approach. Critics say that this approach is insensitive.