Pa. Lawmakers Withdraw Support for Bill To Limit Welfare Benefits in Some Rape Cases

October 29, 2012 — Three sponsors have withdrawn their names from a Pennsylvania bill (HB 2718) that would restrict additional welfare benefits to recipients who have a child as the result of rape unless they had reported the rape to authorities, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The Legislature is not expected to vote on the bill before it adjourns next month, according to the Inquirer.

Bill Details

The bill would place a "family cap" on benefits through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, meaning that families would not receive additional benefits if they had more children. The approach, adopted by 23 states in the mid-1990s, is intended to discourage women receiving government assistance from having more children. However, a number of states have rescinded the caps in recent years, according to attorney Luan Huynh, a national expert on the issue.

Under the Pennsylvania bill, rape survivors would be exempt from the cap, but they would have to prove they had reported the crime to authorities and identified the attacker, if known (Lubrano, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/26).

Response to Criticism

Critics of the bill noted that fewer than half of rapes are reported and that the language sent the message that only reported assaults are significant. Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R), the bill's primary sponsor, said she decided to drop the measure after receiving a flood of phone calls from reporters (Yarrow, Daily Beast, 10/25).

Swanger had defended the bill as late as Thursday morning. Later in the day, she said, "The rape part is not what I requested," adding that she had asked the Legislature's research staff to draft a bill based on a New Jersey measure. The New Jersey law does not include the rape provision. Swanger said she will try again next year.

Another one of the bill's six cosponsors, Rep. Keith Gillespie (R), said he was removing his name because of the language, adding that he had not seen the measure before agreeing to cosponsor it. Additionally, a spokesperson for Rep. Tom Caltagirone, the only Democratic cosponsor, said the lawmaker's name was added by mistake (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/26).