News Releases

Bill Summary: Secure and Healthy Families Act (S.2876)

Sep 18 2002

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) has written and introduced the Safe & Healthy Families Act (S.2876) to update how our nation assists families in need.

Senator Murray's legislation is summarized below:

1. Promoting Secure and Healthy Families Fund

Because marriage is not a guaranteed solution to poverty (and may trap many women in abusive situations), this bill offers an alternative to the Finance bill's focus on marriage promotion. This competitive grant program provides $100 million per year to enhance family security through a variety of activities such as offering family counseling, enhancing economic security, and helping teens avoid pregnancy. It includes important safeguards for family's rights and a rigorous evaluation and reporting component to measure the effect of such programs on family security and health.

2. Ensuring Equitable Treatment for all Families

Building on the federal government's history of protecting civil rights, this bill prohibits discrimination among needy families based solely on marital status or family structure.

3. Helping Teen Parents and Their Children Succeed

This bill facilitates the provision of education, opportunity and support to teen parents so that they can build a better life for their children. Recent studies indicate that teen parents are being denied assistance that they and their children need simply because they cannot find an "appropriate living arrangement" or are not in school. This bill provides teens extra time and support to find a safe, appropriate home for themselves and to get enrolled in school. It also gives these young parents the opportunity to get a good education by counting teen education as work until completion, and not counting the time that a teen parent is engaged in education against their lifetime limit until they are twenty years old.

4. Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence

Given that as many as 60% of women on welfare have been subjected to domestic violence, this bill extends the Family Violence Option to cover all 50 states. This bill requires that victims of domestic and sexual violence be identified and referred for appropriate services, while ensuring that caseworkers are trained, and notice and privacy protections for survivors are guaranteed. Recognizing that some batterers make it dangerous or impossible for victims of domestic violence to hold a job, this bill allows states to count those women working to overcome domestic violence as working, and to exceed the twenty percent "hardship exemption" if they need to do so to protect victims of domestic violence. It also authorizes a $1 million grant to identify best practices on training, screening and other important elements, and $10 million for grants to state or tribal domestic violence coalitions to demonstrate best practices.

5. Rewarding Care Giving

Any parent can tell you that caring for a child, especially one with a chronic illness or disability, is hard work. This bill recognizes the importance of caring for those in need by supporting parents and relative caregivers. Current law contains protections for parents of children under age six who refuse to work because they cannot find child care. This section strengthens that protection by: ensuring parents know their options; adding a pre-sanction provision; extending such protection to parents who have a school age child (up to age 13) and cannot find after school care or summer care as well as to parents who have a sick or disabled child of any age and cannot find appropriate care. In addition to protecting these families from sanction, it allows states to deem their care for their child or disabled dependent as work. Of all child care services, care for infants and toddlers is the most scarce and expensive. Given that this care is often difficult to find and poor quality, this bill helps mothers care for their own infants. Current law gives states the option to exempt parents with a child under 12 months from work and from work participation rates. This bill requires states to allow a parent with a child under age one to care for their own child, and gives states the option to exempt parents with children up to age three. The bill also recognizes this care giving as work.

6. Protecting Children from Sanctions

Although parents may nominally be the ones sanctioned, sanctions have serious consequences for the innocent children they affect. This bill will ensure that sanctions are applied to the noncompliant individual, but not to children. Where one individual fails to comply with the rules, whole families should not suffer.