NASHVILLE - The head of the state Democratic Party on Monday attacked a Republican lawmaker's bill that seeks to cut cash benefits for parents on welfare whose children don't attend or do poorly in school.
Chairman Roy Herron said the bill, sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, would be named "Starve the Children" and denounced the measure as "perhaps the worst bill yet from the radical Republicans."
Quoting from the New Testament's Book of Matthew, Herron told reporters that "Jesus taught that we are to feed the hungry, reminding us that, 'Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these ... you did for me.'"
Campfield's bill, which has drawn national attention, would require parents or caretakers to adhere to a "personality responsibility plan" for their children. Failure to comply would result in the custodian's receiving a "child only" grant under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The money would be restored if parents or caretakers can later demonstrate they attended at least two parent-teacher conferences, took at least eight hours of parenting classes or enrolled the child in summer school or a tutoring program.
"If you want to see the starkest contrast between Tennessee Democrats and radical Republicans, this bill is it," said Herron, who noted that a mother with two children is eligible for $185 a month in the state's TANF program. He said the bill, should it become law, would "take back 30 percent" of the money. He showed reporters a table filled with $52.12 in food purchased at a local grocery store "within sight of the Capitol."
Low-income families are also eligible for food stamps, a separate program that would not be affected.
In a Sunday post on his blog, Campfield said "liberals have fooled people into thinking that they are automatically entitled to other people's money without having to do anything to get it. That any sort of standard of accountability for that money is some sort of 'unfair punishment' on them.
"There is a solution for this 'grave indignity' perpetrated against them," Campfield added. "Don't apply for the money. There are plenty of others who would be happy to do what it takes to take their place."