Welfare, Immigration and Violence Against Women Act
Welfare Reform Basics
Economic stability is a primary concern for victims of domestic violence who contemplate leaving a violent relationship. Women who have already fled abusive situations face the challenge of independently supporting their families. Welfare can be a resourceful step in achieving and maintaining economic stability for survivors and their families.
On August 22, 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. This act replaced Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
The new law placed permanent ceilings on the amount of federal funding for welfare, as well as placing strict time limits on families receiving welfare. For example, under the 1996 law, federal funds may only be used to provide a total of five years of aid in a lifetime of a family. Welfare reform also placed work requirements on welfare recipients as stipulations for receiving cash assistance. This new stringent, “work first” philosophy can be threatening for families who experience violence and need the security that public benefits can provide in order to escape violent situations and gain some autonomy and independence.
The Family Violence Option
Fortunately, Texas adopted the Family Violence Option in 1997 with HB 3428, which allows states to provide temporary waivers, or modifications of requirements, such as child support cooperation, paternity establishment, work activities and time limits, to victims of family violence who would be put in danger by complying with these requirements. The Family Violence Option, though under utilized, can help to ensure that survivors have the ability to obtain the benefits their families need safely.
TANF Reauthorization with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005[i]
- The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of expired in 2002. Congress passed numerous extensions until 2006, when TANF Reauthorization was included as a part of budget reconciliation, reauthorizing the TANF program through September 30, 2010.
- The reauthorization and new federal rules governing TANF included the following changes:
- States must meet stronger rules regarding the percent of participants that meet work requirements.
- Work and work-related activities are now defined at the federal level. Previously, states could create their own definitions. This means that some states will have to change which activities they allow to be counted towards the TANF work requirements.
- Appropriation of funds for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs. This section also indicates that any organization carrying out these programs must describe how they will address issues of domestic violence and must “consult with experts in domestic violence” in developing their programs.
- Child support changes (these take effect in FY09, but individual states may opt to make the effective date as early as October 1, 2008):
- Increases the amount of child support payments that families receive. When families sign up for TANF, they must assign all their child support payments to the state. The new rules mean that more of the child support funds will be given directly to the families they were intended for.
- Allowing states to disregard child support payments in calculating whether a family is eligible for TANF.
- Effective October 1, 2007, federal funds to assist with child support enforcement will be cut substantially.
[i] S. 1932 (109th Congress) Public Law No: 109-171
Immigrants’ Access to Public Benefits
When Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, immigrants’ access to public benefits was slashed, but there is a provision that allows some immigrant survivors of abuse who have filed VAWA self petitions to access these important benefits. The intersection of immigration and welfare law is extraordinarily complex and further complicated by frequent changes. TCFV can serve as a resource on the subject of immigrants’ access to public benefits. It is important to note that all immigrants, regardless of their status or when they entered the county, are eligible for emergency benefits including:
Emergency medical care, emergency Medicaid, immunizations, diagnosis and treatment of communicable diseases, emergency mental health and substance abuse services,
- Summer food programs and school lunch programs;
- Public education; and
- Any program necessary to protect life and safety that is not income conditional (shelters, food banks).
- Workers at these programs are not authorized to ask for verification of immigration status.