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Bill advances to tie welfare to grades

10:32 PM, Apr 3, 2013   |    comments
Rep. Mike Turner worries about the effect legislation attaching welfare benefits to school performance will have on children.
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By Chas Sisk / The Tennessean 

A House committee approved legislation Wednesday that would reduce welfare benefits for families whose children are failing school after a lengthy and passionate debate.

The House Health Committee voted 10-8 in favor of House Bill 261. The measure would cut Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments if a child fails a grade and a parent does not take an action such as attending two parent-teacher conferences, arranging tutoring, enrolling the child in summer school or taking a parenting class.

TANF payments would be reduced to the child-only grant, about $140 for a family with one child.

Opponents said the bill will hurt families already struggling to make ends meet.

"What we sometimes put in law and how the real world reacts are sometimes not the same thing," said state Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville. "The ultimate result of this is we're going to end up taking heat away from children, possibly clothing away from children, if not food away from children. The ultimate effect is going to zero back down to the children."

Supporters argued it will force parents to take responsibility for their children's grades.

"I can't stress enough how my heart goes out for a child that is not getting the support that he needs at home," said state Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma. "But I am more concerned about the child starving for a lifetime than I am for a few days, because if these children don't get an education and the parents are not going to be responsible enough, they're going to be burdened for a lifetime."

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