Testimony at Hearing on LD 1842: An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program

While I oppose the elimination of the TANF good cause provision, I am especially concerned by the proposed elimination of the Parents as Scholars (PAS) program. 

PAS helps parents who receive TANF to obtain a two- or four-year college degree by counting time spent in college classes as work for purposes of meeting the TANF work requirement. It pays for support services that working parents need like child care, transportation, and occupational expenses. Graduates of PAS, mostly single mothers with children, have lifted their families out of poverty by securing better-paying and more secure employment with benefits.
Today’s Jobs Require Education
The economy is failing Maine women and their children. In 2012, women headed one of every three low-income working families in Maine.
There are many reasons why the economy fails women including a persistent gender gap in earnings, insufficient good-paying jobs, high college tuition costs, and a lack of health care and other benefits.  
The lack of college degrees or specialized job skills, often pose insurmountable obstacles for women seeking today’s higher-paying, higher-demand occupations. Too many become stuck in low-paying jobs without health insurance, paid sick leave, and other benefits. Nationally, women account for 61 percent of full-time minimum wage workers. 
There are ways to help women participate fully in the economy and Parents as Scholars is one of them.
For low-income working adults to succeed in higher education, they often need supports in addition to—and different from—those available to traditional students. Single mothers with children to care for are hardest-pressed. The demand of family responsibilities is the most common reason given for leaving college before earning a degree.
PAS provides critical supports to low-income parents who need it most. Eliminating PAS would relegate women to dead-end jobs and a life of poverty for themselves and their children.  
Parents as Scholars Works
PAS is a real success in Maine. It helps parents with children to receive a degree and end their family’s reliance on TANF.  
In a challenging economy, 30 percent of families leaving TANF eventually are in a situation where they must return to the program.  While PAS graduates typically must support a family on one income, they are only half as likely to re-apply for TANF benefits.  
In Maine, PAS graduates earn an average of two dollars more per hour than TANF recipients who do not participate in PAS. Forty-four percent of PAS participants earn a bachelor’s degree. The median income for a worker with a bachelor’s degree is 32 percent higher than a worker with an associate’s degree – which, in turn, is 30 percent higher than the median income of workers holding a high-school diploma or GED. PAS graduates also are far more likely to secure jobs with benefits, including health insurance for their families.   
Finally, a longitudinal study demonstrated that nine out of 10 PAS graduates tied positive changes in their economic status– including home ownership, improved family finances, and promotions at work – to their participation, as well as better academic outcomes for children.   
Maine Needs Educated Workers to Grow its Economy
We can no longer ignore that what is bad for our low-income families is also bad for the rest of Maine. The data are clear. States with lower levels of education have higher rates of unemployment and poverty. 
Cutting the PAS program only contributes to Maine’s economic woes. It leaves employers without the skilled workforce they need, prevents businesses from expanding, and stunts our state’s economic growth.
For these reasons, I urge you to oppose LD 1842. Thank you for your consideration.

Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy testifying before the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services in opposition to LD 1842, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program.