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Reform Jewish Movement Calls on Congress to Pass Welfare Reform that Moves Americans out of Poverty

Contact:Alexis Rice or Rachel Wainer at 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2002 - In response to new poverty figures released yesterday by the United States Census Bureau, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

After falling for four straight years, Census Bureau figures show that the nation's poverty rate rose from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 11.7 percent in 2001. Largely because of the economic recession, there were 1.3 million more Americans living below the poverty line in 2001 than in 2000. The official poverty level is calculated at $18,104 for a family of four in 2001 and $9,039 for an individual. In addition, the number of "severely poor" rose to 13.4 million last year, from 12.6 million in 2000. People are considered to be severely poor if their family incomes are less than half of the official poverty level.

These statistics show that conclusions about the "success" of welfare reform have been premature. Although the 1996 Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program coincided with, and contributed to, drastically reduced welfare caseloads, it has not alleviated the depth or breadth of poverty in the United States. We must measure TANF's success realistically: in terms of quality of life for low-income Americans, not in terms of the number of welfare recipients.

Congress has a moral responsibility to ensure that welfare programs provide real jobs, real job training, and a real safety net to Americans in need. We believe that the Senate Finance Committee's Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids (WORK) Act of 2002 is substantially better, more effective and more compassionate, than the current TANF program or the punitive legislation that passed the House of Representatives in March. We applaud the bill's thirty hour workweek, greater opportunities for education and training and provisions to permit up to six months of substance abuse treatment and mental health services to count towards the work requirement.

However, improvements must be made to the legislation. In order to become self-sufficient, welfare recipients must receive the adequate childcare, job training, education and transportation supports necessary to move out of the low-wage job market. Working for minimum wage while receiving few benefits is not a means of escaping poverty. Welfare legislation must embrace this reality and provide people with real tools to achieve real results.

Jewish tradition teaches us to "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy" (Proverbs 31:19). As the end of this Congress approaches, we urge the members of the Senate to recognize that low-income families are in need, and the federal government has the responsibility to support TANF reauthorization that truly combats poverty in America and empowers families to move out of poverty's grasp.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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