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How welfare reform failed Pa.'s poor families

Plus, Afghan refugees arrive in Pa.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 19, 2021
Welfare reform, Afghan refugees, illegal vote, safe spaces, prisoner abuse, culture wars, and the bears are alright. It's Thursday. Welcome to PA Post.
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Twenty-five years after President Bill Clinton signed a sweeping reform bill into law that promised to end "welfare as we know it," advocates say the system isn't helping Pennsylvania families meet basic needs or escape poverty, WESA reports.

Citing a new report on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF, which the Clinton-backed overhaul created, the station notes that dollar amounts paid to Pennsylvania families are low — about $400 a month for a family of three — and haven't increased in nearly three decades. 

Under TANF, the federal government provides block grants to state governments, which use the funds to operate their own programs.

"The way the program operates means that Pennsylvania's state government accepts that children who receive TANF will grow up in deep poverty, living on just a fraction of what we know is needed to get by," the report's authors at the Meet the Need Coalition explain.

THE CONTEXT: TANF imposed tougher work requirements and time limits on recipients in an effort to appease critics who believed the old welfare system fostered a culture of dependency. 

The result? Since 1997, two million families have been cut off TANF for perceived violations of work rules, The Inquirer reports. In Pennsylvania, TANF recipients dropped from 223,629 in July 2003 to 64,976 — more than 49,000 of them children — as of June.

Ten years after welfare reform created TANF, supporters said employment increases proved it was all working as planned.

Ten years after that, research found the opposite to be true, per Vox, with welfare reform and TANF failing families in the Great Recession — particularly notable given current economic parallels. 

Today, Pennsylvania advocates want payments increased by state legislators, paperwork burdens eased, work and job training programs improved, and criteria — including a $1,000 savings limit for applicants — loosened.
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"It is baffling to this court as to how the City of Philadelphia wants to remove the statue without any legal basis." 

—Judge Paula Patrick ruling a contested Christopher Columbus statue should not be removed from Philadelphia's Marconi Plaza
COVID-19 UPDATE: The Biden administration wants booster shots available to all Americans who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine starting Sept. 20. The CDC and FDA still need to sign off on the move. Per Axios, plans for J&J boosters are still in the works. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CLIMBING COVID: Join us Wednesday, Aug. 25 at noon via Zoom for a free Q&A on what we know about rising COVID-19 cases and the state's vaccine distribution efforts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to
Intrepid PA Poster Don H. snapped this pic of a timber rattlesnake near Lanse. "It held still for this, then relocated to friendlier environs not far away," Don explained by email. Thanks for sharing! Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
SAFE STATE: Aided by local humanitarian groups, refugees from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan have begun arriving in Pennsylvania, WHYY reports, joining nearly 1,000 Afghan refugees who came here in the last decade. Gov. Tom Wolf's office, a vocal champion of refugees in the past, told the Capital-Star of accepting more: "We are monitoring this evolving situation in the event that [government] support is needed."

VOTER FRAUD: A Forty Fort man will serve six months probation and 40 hours of community service after trying to cast a vote using his dead mother's name. Frequently cited by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman as proof of pro-Trump voter fraud, Robert Richard Lynn told the court he used "poor judgment" and "deeply regrets" it, per the Times Leader.

FIRE SAFETY: Two years after a fire at an Erie child care center claimed five young lives and changed the rules for similar businesses statewide, inspectors are looking more closely at smoke detector and fire safety systems. But some worry too few inspectors and a lack of training threaten to undermine the progress, PennLive reports.

TRAUMA UNIT: York County officials want to expand a relationship with a controversy-plagued contractor whose training of guards at the county's prison led to reports of imprisoned people being shackled with their genitals exposed, forced to stand for hours handcuffed with weapons pointed at them, and threatened with injury, per York Dispatch. 

GRADE USA: A "patriotism amendment" unanimously approved by The Mars Area School Board forbids teachings that cause people to "feel guilt or anguish ... because of their race, sex, or religion," WESA reports. It's one of the first districts in the Pittsburgh region to ban critical race theory, even though it's not being taught there.
PERSONAL NEWS: Inquirer health and science reporter Tom Avril was fully vaccinated and in a Colorado town called Delta when he started showing symptoms of COVID-19 in July. He was exposed by an unvaccinated nephew there and had lots of questions for the experts on his beat back home.

GOING, GONE: A 1909 Honus Wagner Pittsburgh Pirates card (well, technically Pittsburg Pirates) considered the "holy grail" among collectors has fetched more than $6.6 million at auction, shattering the previous record set by a Mickey Mantle card from 1952, TribLIVE reports. 

TEE TIME: In a bid to lure major golf tournaments to state courses, Pennsylvania lawmakers and the Wolf administration have dangled the promise of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded investment to sweeten the deal, leading to criticism and cries of corporate welfare, PennLive reports.

BEAR DEN: Pennsylvania's black bear population has rebounded since the 1970s when new limits were placed on hunting them. The Allegheny Front tagged along with a Game Commission biologist on a recent tagging trip in Tuscarora State Forest and got an earful on the species' comeback.

AFROFUTURISM: The artistic collaboration known as Black Quantum Futurism has turned a historic Philadelphia mansion into a time-travel portal of sorts, telling WHYY: "Black histories are often left out of time capsules, so we have to think about time capsules in a different way."
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