2003 Domestic Priority Issues
Refundable Child Tax Credit
The Senate version of the tax bill accelerates the phasing in of the Child Tax Credit
What You Can Do:
Welfare: TANF Reauthorization
TANF has been temporarily extended through June 2003, and will likely continue to be extended in three month increments until Congress finishes the task of reauthorizing the TANF program for a full five years sometime this year.
On February 13, 2003, the House passed H.R. 4, a bill nearly identical to the TANF bill that passed the House last year, by a vote of 230-192. In a joint letter dated February 11, 2003, the Conference and Catholic Charities USA declined to support the bill because of concerns about several provisions: allowing five states to turn the Food Stamp program into a block grant; forcing states to deny benefits to the entire family, including children ("full-family sanction"), when a parent fails to comply with the new work requirements; the combined effect of changes to the TANF work requirements; and allowing certain Cabinet Secretaries to authorize states to override eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, and other program requirements in order to combine programs affecting the poor.
The House bill also failed to restore benefit eligibility to legal immigrants, a priority for the Conference. On the other hand, the bill did contain positive aspects, such as providing modest funding to promote marriage and healthy families and for fatherhood programs, and making poverty reduction a stated TANF goal.
The Senate has yet to take up TANF reauthorization this year. The Senate Finance Committee was expected to meet in late May or early June to mark-up its plan for reauthorization but other priorities may push that back. Indications are that the Committee will stay closer to current law, with some increases in the work requirements but smaller than the changes in the House bill. The Senate hopes to bring its legislation to a floor vote before the end of the summer.
What You Can Do: Contact your Senators and urge them to make sure that TANF legislation:
- restores benefits to legal immigrants;
- includes sensible work requirements that don't limit states' ability to help TANF recipients to become self-sufficient, and that give states greater flexibility to count genuine education and training as work;
- ensures that those leaving welfare have access to essential work supports, by increasing funding for child care and providing year-long transitional Medicaid and food stamps; and
- supports marriage and families by removing barriers to two parent families receiving assistance and providing counseling resources to low-income couples where appropriate.
Other Issues Where the USCCB has Taken Action:
On March 21, 2003, Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the Senate urging them to consider the needs of the poor and vulnerable as they fashion the FY'04 federal budget. His letter concluded that the Conference "could not support a budget plan that neglects the needs of the least of these' in our nation and world." See attached letter, and ALERT on assistance to the states in providing Medicaid assistance.
The Senate passed the $350 billion tax bill which includes $20 in state aid . . . .. . . . .
What You Can Do:
Refundable Child Tax Credit
Also included in the Senate tax bill was
Senators Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman reintroduced their Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, S. 476, which the Senate passed on April 9 by a vote of 95-5. The CARE Act, endorsed by the USCCB, Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, provides crucial new resources to the faith-based and secular charities that serve our needy brothers and sisters, through provisions that include: Tax-code changes to allow non-itemizers to take a tax deduction for a portion of their charitable contributions (a proposal long supported by the Conference), creation of a Compassion Capital Fund to provide technical assistance and capacity building for faith-based and community organizations, $1.3 billion in new funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program, and funding for Second Chance/Maternity Group Homes.
Unfortunately, "equal treatment" language was dropped that would have clarified that religious social service providers cannot be required to alter or remove religious icons or symbols or to change their names as a condition of participation in federally funded programs serving the poor. But the CARE Act as passed is still a crucial bill for faith-based organizations that serve the poor because it will bring new public and private resources to the struggle to overcome poverty.
On February 7, 2003 the Conference joined with Catholic Charities USA in a letter to Senators Santorum and Lieberman supporting their reintroduced bill, and to Senator Lieberman on March 10 addressing the need for the "equal treatment" provision. The Conference also joined with Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association in letters to each Senator urging them to vote for the CARE Act, and, after the vote, congratulating and thanking Senators Santorum and Lieberman. See attached.
On the eve of the Senate vote, the White House announced its opposition to the CARE Act's restoration of SSBG funds. On March 5 Cardinal McCarrick wrote to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card expressing our disappointment over the Administration's opposition and urging them to reconsider. See attached.
Upon learning that the planned House bill would not include SSBG funding, the USCCB, Catholic Charities, and CHA wrote Representative Roy Blunt on May 6 urging him to include all four of the CARE Act provisions we consider priorities, including the SSBG funding. However, on May 7 Rep. Blunt introduced "The Charitable Giving Act of 2003" (H.R. 7) as the House companion to the CARE Act. H. R. 7 does not include the SSBG increase.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Congress retroactively extended the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) Program in February. However, unless new federal legislation is enacted unemployed workers who exhaust their regular, state-funded benefits after May 30 will not be eligible for additional federal aid. If the assistance is not extended some 3.9 million workers and their families could be affected. The attached ALERT was sent out based on Cardinal McCarrick's October 2002 letter to the Senate.
Children's Health & Environment
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Rev. Michael Place, on behalf The USCCB and CHA, wrote to Senator Collins (R-ME) supporting the Mercury Reduction Act, which she is sponsoring. See attached letter and ALERT.