Political Animal


April 01, 2013 4:20 PM Starving the Victims

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve often marveled at the strange doings of Tennessee’s recently conquered Republican legislature, but the Volunteer State’s right-wing solons are really outdoing themselves now, according to a report from Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

Legislation to cut welfare benefits of parents with children performing poorly in school has cleared committees of both the House and Senate after being revised to give the parents several ways to avoid the reductions.
The state Department of Human Services, which worked with Republican sponsors to draft the changes, withdrew its previous opposition to SB132. But the measure was still criticized by Democrats, including Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.

Yes, there are exemptions for kids with diagnosed learning disabilities, and parents can get around the cut by signing up for “parenting classes” or otherwise jumping through hoops. But it’s still a classic example of “blaming the victim”—or maybe “starving the victim.”

Johnson, a teacher, said the bill will still put “the burden of the family budget on children’s performance in school” and that would mean a “huge stress on a young person who is trying to do what he can.”

She also said the legislation targets “struggling families,” while there is nothing that addresses higher-income parents who ignore their children’s school problems.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said parents of children with “undiagnosed learning disabilities” could suffer because of the bill and, even if a child is performing poorly in school, “the kid still has to eat.”
Turner also said the bill apparently does not apply to home-schooled children and, “I guess a person who wants to get around this just can say ‘I’m home schooling my children’.”

Yes, I know “parental involvement” in schools is much-valued now, perhaps too much in some respects (a lot of the “help your kids with homework” talk these days would have been called “cheating” when I was in school, and inherently favors kids with parents who have the time, resources, and education to pitch in). But you can’t help but suspect these legislators would just as soon eliminate welfare altogether and/or treat it as a privilege people have to earn by performing tasks that may be beyond their practical means.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Sisyphus on April 01, 2013 4:30 PM:

    Every time a politician says, "I have an idea for some education reform," I hear, "I'm going to meddle in something I don't understand, for political gains, at the cost of teachers and students." And that's for politicians who claim to want to improve education across the board, let alone ones who want to kill both public education AND welfare in one bill.

  • Rich on April 01, 2013 4:33 PM:

    years ago, I did psychological evals for an institution serving children in Tennessee. It was obvious that schools tested around learning disabilities, esp. in rural areas. It was most obvious for kids who'd lived elsewhere and had had appropariate testing. Also, many schools don't test until late elementary school, because the deficits aren't big enough to justify services until around then. Regardless, it's a way to cut welfare benefits and make it seem like the parents' fault. The usual nonsense that passes for "morality". I wonder what happens, though, when a relative of someone in the legislature is affected. An amazing array of people wind up with welfare benefits at some point in their lives and this will happen...

  • Billy on April 01, 2013 4:40 PM:

    I think we should just beat the poor for being so un-American.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 01, 2013 4:41 PM:

    Yet another example of penalizing the poor for being poor.

    I'd believe that it weren't a po'-folk penalty if they had an equivalent plan to impose an extra tax on parents who earn more money and aren't on welfare. Well-to-do kinds need parental involvement too, no???

  • Mimikatz on April 01, 2013 5:02 PM:

    Is there an exception for athletes? Or are they just planning to recruit the kids other states pay to feed and educate?

  • Peter C on April 01, 2013 5:18 PM:

    Beatings will continue until morale improves!

  • Raoul on April 01, 2013 6:12 PM:

    This seems cut directly from the cloth of that sect that thinks that g-d punishes the wicked with poverty, and it's even more abhorrent corollary (as preached by such luminaries as Joel Osteen) that you're rich because you're just so darned moral and pure.

    I'm waiting for the first state to advance debtor's prisons as an answer to foreclosure.

  • Gamecock on April 01, 2013 7:46 PM:

    This article has a little more information about the amendments. I cannot tell you how many people in the East TN County I live in struggle with basic transportation. This bill and its amendments are ridiculous.


  • Anonymous on April 02, 2013 5:02 AM:

    @Raoul on April 01, 2013 6:12 PM:
    "This seems cut directly from the cloth of that sect that thinks that g-d punishes the wicked with poverty,..."

    I never understood conservatives' attitude toward the poor until a friend in college told me about the Puritan's view of wealth as "An outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace." Wealth shows that one is favored by God. I suppose that poverty is seen as a sign as the opposite.

  • Ron Byers on April 02, 2013 7:48 AM:

    Dystopia, southern style.

    Why am I reminded of the Hunger Games when I read this?