On Thursday, State Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-TN) withdrew his widely criticized bill to reduce welfare assistance for needy families if their children did not perform well in school. The state Senate would have voted on the measure this afternoon, but Campfield pulled the bill after his Republican colleagues refused to support it. Many children’s advocacy groups, lawmakers, and clergy have expressed concern over the plan to cut Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) benefits by 30 percent for students who did poorly in school.
As Campfield walked to the Senate chambers, he was presented with a petition of more than 2500 signatures collected by Clergy for Justice to protest the bill. The deliverer of the petition was an 8-year-old girl, Aamira Fetuga, whose mother, Rasheedat Fetuga, is the founder of a local child advocacy group.
As Aamira prepared to explain to Campfield why she was worried about his bill, Campfield dismissed her as a “prop” and hurried away, repeating over and over again, “Using children as props is shameful” as Aamira and her mother tried to talk to him.
Watch it [courtesy of Eric Patton and Clergy For Justice]:
Aamira eventually told Campfield, “I don’t like the way you take the benefits from people…I’m worried about the light bills getting cut off.” Later in the video, one of Campfield’s constituents tried to talk to him about his disapproval for the bill, only to be dismissed as a “union thug” by the state senator.
Campfield’s plan sparked outrage from a wide range of advocates and politicians who decried the burden it placed on already disadvantaged children. Campfield suggested it would be simple enough for parents to restore their benefits by attending 2 parent-teacher conferences or hiring a tutor, failing to appreciate the time and money constraints on these already strained families.
During the session, many of Campfield’s fellow Republicans stood up one by one to call the measure “troublesome” and express concern about the “unintended consequences” that could put children in danger. State Senator Doug Overbey (R) had a change of heart after hearing from teachers and the state’s Commission On Children And Youth:
I voted for the bill in the General Welfare committee because I thought it was a step in addressing a problem. Since that time, other information has come to my attention. First of all, there’s been comments about how folks in our educational system feel about it. Just this morning I got an email from a teacher in my district that said, ‘Teachers have expressed interest in some form of parent accountability but I can assure you this is not what they had in mind.’ Secondly, I found on my desk a letter from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth…a 2 1/4 page analysis of this legislation and ultimately urges voting against it.
Once it became clear he could not get enough votes to pass the measure, Campfield asked that his bill go to a summer study committtee before the vote.