Update (below): Pennsylvania Republican withdraws 'starving children' bill following Raw Story report
A bill introduced by a group of Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania this week set off alarms at the Children's Defense Fund, which told Raw Story on Thursday that the proposal boils down to "starving children" in order to punish women for giving birth while on taxpayer-funded welfare.
"This is absolutely outrageous," Patti Hassler, spokesperson for the Children's Defense Fund, told Raw Story. "Children do not choose their parents and should not be punished for whatever their parents' actions are. Starving a child, no matter the circumstances of birth or actions of the parents, is always wrong. It's just outrageous."
House Bill 2718 was proposed by State Reps. RoseMarie Swanger (R), Mark Gillen (R), Mike Tobash (R), Adam Harris (R) and Keith Gillespie (R). None of the bill's co-sponsors responded to requests for comment.
An aide to Rep. Tom Caltagirone, the lone Democratic cosponsor, told Raw Story that they were "horrified" to see his name alongside the bill, promising the placement was due to "a clerical error in our office" which has since been corrected.
The bill specifically says that it would eliminate "the increment in benefits under the program for which that family would otherwise be eligible as a result of the birth of a child conceived during the period in which the family is eligible for benefits." In other words, parents who would otherwise qualify for more food aid due to the birth of a child will no longer be eligible "as a result of" having a child while on welfare.
H.B. 2718 would carve out one exception to the penalty for women who were impregnated through rape or incest, but the bill says the request for that exception must be accompanied by "a non-notarized, signed statement from the pregnant woman stating that she was a victim of rape or incest, as the case may be, and that she reported the crime, including the identity of the offender, if known, to a law enforcement agency having the requisite jurisdiction."
The bill adds that the written statement must declare "that the pregnant woman is aware that false reports to law enforcement authorities are punishable by law."
Only 46 out of every 100 rapes get reported to police, and only about 5 will lead to felony convictions, according to the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey for 2006-2010 (PDF).
Pennsylvania has 1,486,013 families that live below the poverty threshold, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. That figure includes 470,518 children, most of them born to parents African-American and Latino parents who dropped out of high school.
"We have to be careful what we cut," Hassler added. "What we know is that that we're going to pay for it more later. If we cut nutrition, then the chances are much more likely that the child is going to struggle in school because they won't be able to concentrate. Then they get discouraged and drop out. We have statistics on all that. They need to be careful what they cut because everyone will end up paying more later."
Update: Pennsylvania Republican withdraws 'starving children' bill following Raw Story report
About an hour after this story's publication, Pennsylvania State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R) called to announce that she is withdrawing H.B. 2718 and will "work on a better bill for next year."
"It's not what I requested," Swanger said of the bill. "I wanted it based on New Jersey law and I learned it was not. It was not like it was supposed to be written. I'm really not happy that my instructions weren't followed."
She added that the bill that ultimately got submitted "was taken from Pennsylvania law that was introduced in the past," and explained that she didn't actually mean to include an exception for rape or incest at all.
"New Jersey law does put a cap on the number of children paid, but that language makes no mention of rape and/or incest," Swanger concluded. "This is a controversy that never should have happened and I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed."
(H/T: Think Progress)
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