Pennsylvania Lawmakers Pull Bill Requiring Women To Prove Rape for Welfare Benefits

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In an election season overrun by statements and misstatements about rape, contraception and abortion, Pennsylvania lawmakers have landed themselves in hot water after their own attempted take on the issue. While they may not have been opining on what constitutes legitimate rape, or on rape as divine intervention, the state legislators tried, and failed, to grapple with the delicate concept of proven rape for low-income women seeking welfare assistance—a position they have now withdrawn.

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Reported in ThinkProgress on Wednesday, four Republicans and one Democrat in the Pennsylvania state legislature recently proposed a proposed a measure that would limit the benefits for families in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program:

In determining the amount of assistance payments to a recipient family of benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program, the department shall revise the schedule of benefits to be paid to the recipient family by eliminating 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 under the TANF Program.

The TANF program, a federal assistance program introduced during Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1996, offers temporary cash assistance to American families with dependent children. The program was introduced in part to deal with the increase in out-of-wedlock births, particularly among low-income women.

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Where Pennsylvania lawmakers courted controversy, however was a loophole allowing for an increase in benefits in the case of a women whose child was concieved from rape — if, of course, they could prove it.

The bill, as proposed by State representatives RoseMarie Swanger (R), Tom Caltagirone (D), Mark Gillen (R), Keith Gillespie (R), Adam Harris (R), and Mike Tobash (R), required the woman to state “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.”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 54% of sexual assaults and rapes go by unreported. The bill has now been withdrawn following public criticism.

Swanger spoke with the Daily Beast after the bill was pulled back to clarify that they had not intended to upset anyone: “The [bill’s] language was not at all what I requested. After all the concerned contacts I got, I’m pulling that and working on something better next year.”

(From the Archive: Revolt Against Rape,1975)

She was also keen to distance herself from the other politicians poorly worded remarks on the subject: “I know candidates have made stupid remarks about rape. All rape is legitimate,” she said to the Daily Beast. “What’s not legitimate about it?”