PA’s House Bill 129 Harms Pregnant Women & Families

By Gabriel Schendler, HELP: MLP Intern

On May 22nd the Pennsylvania House of Representatives began consideration on House Bill 129 (HB 129). which would impose a lifetime ban from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for second time drug crime offenders. TANF in Pennsylvania provides a small, time-limited cash stipend to very low-income families who need assistance. This bill would be disastrous for low-income communities and families who are disproportionately affected by substance use disorder and have a clear and present need for social benefits.

HB 129 would set a number of restrictions on the availability of TANF benefits that could be collected by even first time drug offenders. A first time drug offender would be subject to a loss of TANF benefits if they do not submit to both court-ordered substance abuse treatment and take periodic drug tests for a minimum of 10 years. Second time drug offenders will be banned from the program.

In the US, in 2015, approximately 1.6 million families (4.1 million total recipients) received TANF. If HB 129 is enacted, over 125,000 vulernable families in Pennsylvania would be affected. The consequences of this bill will cause children to suffer as TANF recipients consist of pregnant women, dependent children and their parents who live with them, and dependent children and other relatives who live with them and care for them. Approximately 90% of adults who receive TANF are women who are disproportionately affected by domestic violence and acts of sexual violence.

The approach that HB 129 takes toward addiction is unreasonable and problematic. If a participant were to fail a drug test twice she would be denied benefits for the rest of her life whether she is receiving treatment or not. The bill fails to take in to consideration established evidence regarding the chronic and relapsing nature of substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse anywhere between 40 and 60 percent of individuals recovering from a substance use disorder return to using substances at some point. To remove support from mothers who rely on TANF to live and pay for essential expenses only makes reusing and consistent drug use more likely. Additionally, under the current regulations a requirement already exists that anyone applying for social benefits who may have substance use disorder be referred and given appropriate treatment. People who do no comply with treatment are, under current law denied benefits.

HB 129 needlessly punishes mothers and pregnant women in low-income areas. It is crucial that Pennsylvania’s residents come together to support the most vulnerable populations in our communities. To voice your opinion on the matter, the Pennsylvania Health Access Network has an easy generator to find your local representative to encourage her or him to vote no on HB 129.

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