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HB 129 Hurts Pregnant Women and Mothers With Children

Public Benefits

HB 129 Hurts Pregnant Women and Mothers With Children

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HB 129, currently being considered in the Pennsylvania state legislature,  bans women with certain drug convictions from getting TANF for the rest of their lives. This ban will affect pregnant women and families with minor children. About 90% of the adults who get TANF are women.

Other states have been lifting lifetime bans—as Pennsylvania did with bipartisan leadership in 2003—not re-imposing it.

Please contact your state legislators today and ask them to oppose HB 129. A sample letter is attached below.

HB 129 Hurts Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Women’s addictions often result from domestic violence or sexual abuse, when victims of abuse try to self-medicate their pain, in the absence of other resources.

When women have satisfied the penalty for their crimes, and successfully completed a term of incarceration, and are in compliance with probation and parole, they should be able to get the help they need to rejoin society and rebuild their lives. 

Banning them for life because of mistakes they made while they were in addiction, often in the context of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and coercion, is bad policy.

HB 129 Hurts Drug Treatment Programs

HB 129 denies a woman benefits for the rest of her life if she tests positive twice, even if she participates in treatment. Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. Relapse is often a part of the recovery process, and treatment programs know how to respond to relapse

Denying women benefits hurts drug treatment programs, because it is much more difficult for a program to house or care for women, particularly women who are pregnant or have minor children, if they are unable to access benefits. It also hurts children, who are more likely to be placed in foster care, or need to stay longer in foster care, because their mothers cannot afford housing.

Access to Public Benefits Prevents Recidivism

Research focused on the impact of banning individuals with felony drug convictions from getting benefits has shown that eligibility for public assistance “significantly reduces the risk of returning to prison.” See C. Yang, “Does Public Assistance Reduce Recidivism?” American Economic Review (Vol. 107, Nov. 5 (2017).

The maximum TANF grant for a mother and two children in most of Pennsylvania is $403/month. Taking away the mother’s share of the grant makes it much harder to care for children, pay rent or look for a job. Taking away benefits—the additional strain of severe poverty— makes it harder for a woman to stay clean and stay out of jail. As one woman put it, “now it matters because I’m trying to do the right thing.”

There are Better Ways to Address Addictions

DHS already has a system in place to refer people who apply for or receive welfare benefits and who may have a drug or alcohol problem. They are referred to the experts in each county for assessment and treatment. Individuals who do not participate in required treatment are not eligible for benefits under current law.

Let the experts—in the criminal justice system and in the drug and alcohol treatment system—do their jobs.