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Reacting to New Poverty Data: Reform Jewish Movement Calls on Congress to Pass Welfare Reform that Moves Americans Out of Poverty

Pelavin: 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.

Alexis Rice or Sheryl Shapiro 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, September 26, 2003 - In response to new income and poverty figures released by the United States Census Bureau, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

For the second straight year, U.S. Census Bureau figures show that the nation's poverty rate has increased.
· The rise in poverty, from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 11.7 percent in 2001 and 12.1 percent in 2002, follows five years of declining poverty rates.
· At the same time, the new figures show that there were about 1.7 million more Americans living below the poverty line in 2002 than in 2001.
· In 2002, 12.1 million children were in poverty, or 16.7 percent of all kids, up from 11.7 million, or 16.3 percent, the previous year.
The Census Bureau's poverty threshold is calculated at $18,556 for a family of four in 2002 and $9,359 for an individual under 65 years old.

The Census Bureau statistics reveal the overwhelming need to pass welfare reauthorization legislation that moves Americans out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. Yet Congress is in the process of doing exactly the opposite. In February, the House of Representatives passed Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) reauthorization legislation that limits the amount of time that welfare recipients can be enrolled in education and vocational skills training programs. These programs are crucial tools that allow poor Americans to find and keep jobs that enable them to be self-sufficient. Equally disturbing is that the House bill would increase the required work hours for single parents from 30 to 40 hours per week, while increasing childcare funding by only $1 billion in matching funds over five years. Parents cannot be expected both to work and meet their children's needs without the support provided by childcare services.

Earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee passed its TANF legislation that, while slightly better than the House bill, would also increase work requirements, limit accessibility to education and job training programs, and provide a mere $200 million a year over five years in childcare funding. If the bill remains as is, an estimated 430,000 children would lose access to childcare subsidies by 2008, a sign that this welfare legislation severely fails America's children in need.

The Census Bureau numbers released today are an imperfect measure and probably understate the true extent of poverty in America. The current measure was created 40 years ago and fails to capture important changes in consumption patterns since the 1960s-including rising housing, health care, and transportation costs that compose a larger percentage of families' expenses. Nevertheless, the trend toward increased poverty is unmistakable, lamentable, and preventable.

As poverty grows more acute each year, improvements must be made to TANF legislation when it comes to the Senate floor. 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. The needs of poor Americans will not be met by requiring welfare recipients to work more hours without providing necessary support services including child care, education, and job training.

Jewish tradition teaches us to "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy" (Proverbs 31:19). We urge President Bush and all members of Congress to recognize that low-income families are in need, and pass TANF reauthorization that truly combats poverty in America and empowers families to become economically self-sufficient.


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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