by Steven Hale
After a parade of Republicans complimented him for his "intent" and "effort" before announcing their opposition to the legislation that resulted from them, state Sen. Stacey Campfield asked that his bill tying parents' welfare benefits to their children's grades be sent to a summer study committee Thursday morning.
In the end, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey granted the request, gaveling the bill off to a study committee that has not yet been formed. That's progress of a kind, we suppose. (For his part, Gov. Bill Haslam stopped short of promising a veto, but said he had "major problems" with the bill. Again, it's something.)
The bill would have cut welfare benefits by 30 percent for parents whose child received a failing grade in school. Campfield defended the bill against the "Starve Our Children" nickname by pointing out that it would not touch any federal food programs, and that it would only reduce the parents' benefits. How does reducing benefits for a child's parents not affect the child? How does reducing the money a family has to live on not end up affecting their ability to feed themselves? Good question, says Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who said he had told Campfield that the bill made him "queasy."
"You can say that withholding money from the parent doesn't harm the child," Norris told members, before announcing his opposition to the bill (couched in the same sort of friendly terms used by all of Campfield's Republican colleagues), "but you're fooling yourself."
Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney also chimed in, with some more wisdom that sadly does not go without saying in the legislature.
"I think most of us in this room would have a hard time understanding the challenges that many of these families face," Finney said.
But this whole migraine-inducing episode turns out not to have been a complete waste.
This morning, just after Sen. Frank Niceley erroneously stated that the average family on welfare in this country makes $61,000 off of the deal, my colleague J.R. Lind quickly explained his error. In short, while the government spent an average of $61,000 per household in 2011, the average family living on welfare was living on about $22,000 per year. (Fact-checking Niceley on Twitter, the Senate Democrats quickly sent out a link to The Weekly Standard, of all places.
That Niceley is so devoted to the belief that America's poor are getting the better end of the deal that he couldn't be bothered with math-y details is unsurprising. What matters is that former state representative, and friend of the blog, Julia Hurley — who worked with Campfield last year on legislation requiring "suspicion-based" drug tests for welfare recipients — saw fit to tweet some #realtalk at me and Lind. Take it away, Julia:
@jrlind @iamstevenhale I have lived on less than that without needed welfare honey.
— Julia Hurley (@repjuliahurley) April 11, 2013
Thanks, sweetie. We're sure struggling families across the state would be nourished by the knowledge that you're better at being poor than they are.
Come to think of it, we're wondering whether Hurley was paying attention earlier in this morning's Senate session, when members were debating another topic sadly lacking her input. Something about filming animal abuse.
Note (1:18 p.m.): Over at The City Paper, Andrea Zelinski has more details, including a vow from Campfield to bring the bill back in 2014.