Republican lawmaker defends Tenn. good grades for welfare bill

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A Tennessee bill that would reduce welfare benefits of low-income families if their children perform poorly in school has gotten people talking.

Families who currently receive welfare benefits could be penalized up to 30 percent per child if the student is not meeting satisfactory levels in mathematics and reading or language arts.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), talked to theGrio about the legislation and why it will be good for Tennessee.

“All the money saved would go right back into the program to help parents who are helping their children, and to expand the program,” Campfield said.

Are food stamps at stake?

In response to claims that the penalties would take food off the tables of low-income families, Campfield explained, “food stamps were never a part of the bill. It is the straight cash payment part.”

Amendments made to the original bill add options for parents to be exempt from the welfare reduction.  Parents can attend two parent teacher conferences, eight hours of parenting classes, enroll their child in a tutoring program, or enroll their child in summer school in an effort to avoid penalties.

“The amendment puts everything on the parent,” Campfield said.  “Parents refusing to do the options, they will lose up to 30 percent of that child’s benefit.  All the money saved will go to parents trying to get on the [benefits] programs now.”

Democrats are balking at the bill

The Republican senator and co-sponsor to the bill Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah) has been met with opposition from Tennessee Democrats, including state representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) and Representative Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory).

A high school teacher who works with at-risk students, Johnson told theGrio she feels this bill is “discriminatory.”  Adding that this is “just one more way to punish families who have fallen on hard times.”

“No Democrats will vote for the bill,” said Turner in a separate Grio interview.

Some Democrats feel that this bill will put a tremendous amount of stress on young children who are already battling the odds.

“All the pressure is on the parents,” Campfield said.  “All the parents have to do is show up at a parent conference.”

Low income families stand to lose the most

Campfield said low-income families who choose to home school their children will be held to the same standards as those who send their kids to public school.  He also noted that middle and high-income families will not be penalized because they “wouldn’t be able to get the cash benefit.”

“We need to do something to break the generational poverty,” Campfield said.

The legislation (Senate Bill 132 (House Bill 261) has already cleared some Senate and House committees.

The House Health Committee is next set to vote on the bill April 3rd.  Johnson, Dennis, and Turner will all vote as members of the committee.

Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals