Don’t Let School Attendance Determine Families’ Welfare Benefits

Sick Child

Target: Representative Steven Cookson and Missouri legislators

Goal: Stop legislators’ attempt to make welfare assistance dependent on children’s school attendance record.

Republican legislators in Missouri are currently attempting to restrict access to welfare benefits based on the public school attendance rate of children from families receiving welfare. Representative Steve Cookson introduced the one sentence bill, which reads “School age children of welfare recipients must attend public school, unless physically disabled, at least ninety percent of the time in order to receive benefits.” If passed into law, families of children who miss more than 10 percent of school–about three weeks–would have their benefits taken away. The piece of legislation, which has been nicknamed the “Don’t Get Sick” bill, is short-sighted, neglects to acknowledge the myriad of possibilities that may prevent a child from attending school, and will punish the families who need assistance.

Most people would agree that students’ attendance records should be a high priority in order to ensure the education of our children and the security of our nation’s future. But one cannot ignore the likelihood of a child contracting an illness like mononucleosis, depression, or even cancer  that would prevent them from attending school for 3 or more weeks a year. The bill’s inclusion of the phrase “unless physically disabled” is ambiguous and leaves citizens asking, “What exactly constitutes a physical disability? Breaking a bone? The flu?” It also does not specify who would approve the physical disability exception. The language of the bill mandates that these children must attend public school, which makes parents wonder about their children who attend charter and private schools or who are home-schooled.

Cookson’s legislation also completely ignores the everyday realities of many children on welfare assistance. Children from impoverished families often shoulder added responsibilities that are a result of being poor. These responsibilities may include providing care for younger siblings or elderly family members, frequently changing residences, and general instability at home. The bill also neglects the connections between poverty, health, and academic performance. To address all of these issues in a single sentence is an insult to these children.

Tying a family’s eligibility for welfare assistance to a child’s public school attendance will not increase attendance records in Missouri. What the bill will do, however, is place undue burden on a child and force Missouri families even further into poverty. Sign the petition below and tell Representative Cookson and the Missouri legislature that this bill must be stopped.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Representative Steven Cookson and members of the Missouri legislature,

Representative Cookson’s legislation HB 1040 is filled with ambiguity, neglects to acknowledge the myriad of possibilities that may prevent a child from attending school, and will punish Missouri families who need and deserve welfare assistance. The “Don’t Get Sick” bill would take away the benefits that can make the difference between living in a home versus living on the street or between nutrition and going hungry.

School attendance records should be a high priority in order to ensure the education of our children and the security of our nation’s future. But one cannot ignore the likelihood of a child contracting an illness like mononucleosis, depression, or even cancer  that would prevent them from attending school for 3 or more weeks a year. The bill’s inclusion of the phrase “unless physically disabled” is ambiguous. What exactly constitutes a physical disability? Breaking a bone? The flu? It also begs the question as to who would approve the physical disability exception. The language of the bill also mandates that these children must attend public school, which makes parents wonder about their children who attend charter and private schools or who are home-schooled.

Besides the bill’s vague wording, Cookson’s legislation completely ignores the everyday realities of many children on welfare assistance. Children from impoverished families often shoulder added responsibilities that are a result of being poor, including providing care for younger siblings or elderly family members, frequently changing residences, dealing with hunger, and general instability at home related to socio-economic status. The bill also neglects the connections between poverty, physical and mental health, and academic performance. To attempt to address all of these issues in a single sentence is an insult to these kids.

Tying a family’s eligibility for welfare assistance to a child’s public school attendance will not increase attendance records in Missouri. What the bill will do, however, is place undue burden on a child and force Missouri families even further into poverty.  We demand that this bill not be passed.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Mat Hayward via PhotoXpress

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