HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
of New Jersey
in the House of Representatives
Tuesday, June 16, 1998
Three years ago, I supported efforts to reform our nation's federal welfare system. However, I had grave concerns at the time about a provision in the House's version of welfare reform legislation that would have cut off cash assistance for any additional children born to a woman while she was on welfare, known as the family cap. I objected to this provision because I believed that it would encourage women to have abortions in their hour of greatest need or drive families farther into poverty.
The bill I am introducing today no longer allows states to implement their own version of a family cap if they desire to continue to receive their Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant. My bill is very simple: a state will receive its TANF dollars as long as it does not impose a family cap upon America's neediest families.
In 1995, I tried to ban the family cap but failed. I admitted at the time that the family cap-child exclusion proposal had enormous surface appeal, since people were fed up with abuse of the welfare system. As a result, I introduced an amendment which gave states the option to use a voucher system if they chose to do away with cash benefits as part of a larger family cap policy. My amendment passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 352 to 80.
The two most predictable outcomes of the family cap-child exclusion policy as implemented by twenty-three states are the likely increase in the number of babies aborted by indigent women--many of whom will feel financially trapped and abandoned--and the further impoverishment of children born to women on welfare.
Recently, my worst fears regarding abortion and the family cap were confirmed by a Rutgers University draft study prepared for the state of New Jersey which estimated that New Jersey's abortion rate increased by 240 abortions per year as a result of the state's family cap. As a result, since 1993, nearly 900 abortions have occurred in New Jersey due to the family cap. Thousands of other children have also been left to fend for themselves because their parents are not allowed to receive assistance on their behalf. I led a broad-based coalition of groups opposing the state's original request for a waiver in 1992 to implement a family cap policy because we knew that the family cap would only drive women into greater depths of poverty and despair and consequently increase the likelihood that they would abort their child. Sadly, our concerns were confirmed by the Rutgers study.
We knew at the time that money--or more precisely the lack of it-- heavily influences a woman's decision to abort her child. A major study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research organization associated with Planned Parenthood, found that 68% of women having abortions said they did so because "they could not afford to have a child now." Among 21% of the total sample this was the most important reason for the abortion; no other factor was cited more frequently as "most important."
Demographers have pointed out that "young, poor, and minority women are more likely to have abortions than older, more affluent, and white women," even though "these same groups are also more likely to oppose the right to abortion . . . Seven in ten (70 percent) women with incomes of less than $25,000 disapprove of abortion, compared with 52 percent of more affluent women. [Yet] poorer women account for two- thirds (67 percent) of abortions." One expert observes: "Few would say an abortion is a good thing, but many women who believe that abortion is wrong find themselves unable to support a child when they become pregnant."
The family cap is likely to tip the balance for each poor woman who feels that society has no real interest in the survival of her baby. She will get a powerfully negative message--that her child has no value--especially from those states where Medicaid abortion is readily available.
Then one of two things will happen. The woman will have an abortion, or the family will descend further into poverty.
Mr. Speaker, the family cap/child exclusion might present a close question if the incremental payment for a new baby were really so high that it might encourage women and girls to get pregnant and have babies just to get welfare. But this concern simply evaporates when we look at the facts.
The additional assistance per child varies from state to state, but the median is $57 per month--fifty-seven dollars. Out of this the mother must pay for the child's clothing, shoes, diapers and other baby supplies, laundry, and bus fare for medical checkups. According to statistics compiled by Catholic Charities in 1994, the low-end costs for these items total $88.50 per month. So the mother is $31.50 in the hole even before she begins paying for the child's other expenses. We simply mislead ourselves when we assume that this constitutes an incentive to have more babies.
Mr. Speaker, there was much about the welfare system that needed changing in 1995--people were trapped in the cycle of poverty and despair. They needed a new program. They needed help and the bulk of our new provisions have been beneficial. But letting states pay to terminate the life of a child while the same state refuses to pay a mere $64 a month for food and clothing for that child is unconscionable. Instead, if we want welfare to be temporary and to be a true safety net--a safety net against abortion under duress, a safety net against descent into deeper poverty, then we must ban the family cap.
One abortion is one too many. It is wrong for the government, whether it be federal, state, or local to embrace policies that would promote abortion and financial impoverishment. The family cap does just that. I encourage my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring my legislation.