Tennessee “Family Values”: Shame the Poor

Jane Cutter

In an attempt to shame and blame poor families, a bill has cleared both houses of the Tennessee State Legislature that would cut welfare aid to poor families of children struggling in school. If passed, the bill would cut Temporary Aid to Needy Families payments by 30 percent if a student is not making adequate progress in school.

Already, an outcry against this outrageous bill has resulted in some modifications, exempting students with disabilities and allowing families to avoid the penalty by taking steps to improve the child’s performance.

This bill demonizes the poor and reflects a retrogressive view of education and human behavior. Numerous studies have shown a strong positive correlation between academic success and family income. In other words, children from well-to-do families tend to do better at school. Punishing families already living in poverty by cutting their meager payments will do nothing to improve academic achievement. In fact, such penalties are likely to have the opposite effect.

If the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, really wanted to help poor children succeed in school, they would introduce legislation guaranteeing a living wage or income for all with guaranteed access to health care and decent housing.

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