History of LWVTX Action on Equal Opportunity/Income Assistance

History of LWVTX Action on Equal Opportunity/Income Assistance

1971-87 During this period, the League focused on the removal of Texas constitutional limits on state spending for income assistance and on raising Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits. Because attempts to remove the ceiling on income assistance benefits were repeatedly defeated, the League supported the politically feasible action of raising the constitutional ceiling. There was both legislative and public support for a ceiling of 1% of the annual state budget, and the 1982 ballot measure designating that ceiling was approved by the voters. Raising AFDC grants remained a legislative priority in 1985 as the League lobbied for a benefit of $60 or more per AFDC recipient. The AFDC benefit was raised from $53 to $57 per month for the 1985-87 biennium.

1987-93 The state fiscal crisis and the major threat of budget cuts caused the League and other human services advocates to work in the 70th Legislature to maintain the level of services in the 1987-89 biennium rather than lobbying for much needed increases. The LWVTX joined the statewide coalition People First! that successfully urged the legislature to address the basic needs of people first in state budget priorities, and that supported state revenue restructure and enhancement to provide adequate funding for essential state services. In the 1989, 1991, and 1993 Sessions the League again worked with People First! to maintain funding levels.

1995 A bill restructuring welfare in Texas was signed into law. Some of its provisions include: a needs assessment must be done for all Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) recipients; support services such as education, child care, and transportation assistance will be provided subject to availability of funds; a recipient must be a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant and a citizen of the state; and a recipient must sign a responsibility agreement that includes cooperating in efforts to check the child’s paternity, taking the child for regular checkups and immunizations, and education/work agreements among other commitments.

1999 Legislative activity continued to deal with welfare reform in Texas. The LWVTX actively lobbied to protect support services to Texans receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF). Some successes were legislation that allows (a) TANF recipients to keep more of their earned income, (b) removes barriers to finding and keeping jobs, and (c) funds additional child care for low-income families. A success was preventing the monthly TANF benefit from being reduced; it will remain at 17% of the federal poverty level.

2001 The League goal during this legislative session was to support bills that would remove many of the barriers in the present system for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and obtaining food stamps. Results were mixed. Successful legislation will provide hardship exceptions for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families time limits, phone application and recertification for food stamps, a required interagency plan for coordinated services for hard-to-employ clients, and aid for distribution of fresh produce from farmers to food banks. The governor vetoed bills that would have extended transitional services for certain Temporary Assistance for Needy Families clients and another that would have eased work requirements for certain clients. We have expressed concern that the current budgetary practice of using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds for other state needs will continue to put pressure on the program designed to effectively meet the needs of needy families, especially in welfare-to-work services.

2002-03 During the interim between the 77th and 78th Legislature, the Sunset Advisory Commission reviewed the operations of the Texas Workforce Commission, that was established in 1995 during welfare restructuring to merge all employment and training programs into a single, locally-controlled workforce system. The Sunset Commission made several recommendations to make the Texas Workforce Commission more accountable. The LWVTX submitted comments on particular recommendations, stating that the Texas Workforce Commission would benefit from more input from the public, local workforce boards, and childcare experts before formulating policies to be carried out by local workforce boards. The general intent of accountability and additional input for the Texas Workforce Commission was adopted in the final legislation. Budget cuts were the name of the game in the legislative session. The number of families eligible for Temporary Aid to Needy Families will be reduced by lowering the asset test, lowering the vehicle value limit, and enforcing full termination of assistance to a family for any infraction of the Personal Responsibility Agreement. Budget priorities indicated that lawmakers were more interested in reducing numbers of recipients, rather than removing barriers to employment.

2005 Priority: Support for work development programs, including training for living wage jobs. Unfortunately, no legislation was passed out of committee to improve training for higher wage jobs. The Skills Development Fund, the Texas Workforce training program, was actually cut by nearly 60%. Funds were shifted to the Texas Enterprise Fund, a program to give incentives to businesses moving to Texas.

2017 Though equal opportunity wasn't a primary focus of the LWVTX this session, the rest of the nation was watching closely to see what would happen in regard to "lavatory" legislation and all the bathroom bills that had been filed. It's a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good. A record-setting 40 pro-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer (LGBTQ) bills were filed by legislators this session. Even better: Three of them were actually voted out of committee but died in Calendar Committee.

  • HB 1848: Although marriage equality is legal in the U.S., it is still technically illegal to engage in homosexual conduct in Texas. HB 1848 sought to repeal that.
  • HB 225: Would have ensured that LGBTQ Texans were not discriminated against in employment.
  • HB 192: Nondiscrimination for LGBTQ Texans in housing.

Still, it is historic insofar as Texas has never passed a pro-LGBTQ bill this far in the process. Maybe we'll get even further next time.

The bad. Twenty-four anti-LGBTQ bills were filed this session, more than any state legislature in the history of the U.S. Let that sink in…Twenty-three of them either died or failed. But one (HB 3859) was signed into law by Governor Abbott.

HB 3859 allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against follow Texans based on "sincerely held religious beliefs." This hurts our foster care system because gay couples could be denied the ability to adopt a child. Gay or transgender children could be denied important child welfare services due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Children who have been victims of sexual assault may also be denied emergency contraception, all in the name of religious refusal. Supporters of the bill claimed that any person who is denied services by a religious organization could still be served by a state agency, but the bill lays out no clear direction in how to track who is being left behind and what their status is. And considering that LGBTQ youth experience abuse and homelessness at disproportionately higher rates than their straight or cisgender peers, the LWVTX is extremely concerned about their access to safe and supportive care.

Special session. We helped defeat five attempts in the special session that would have explicitly discriminated against LGBTQ Texans. Knowing that Governor Abbott made privacy (code for transgender bathroom bills) one of his legislative priorities during the special session made it that much more difficult to defeat, but together we did defeat all five bills: SB 3, SB 6, SB 91, HB 46, and HB 1362, plus an unsuccessful last ditch effort by some legislators to add bathroom language to HB 21, a school finance bill.

2019. Our major activity this session began with our opposition to SB 15 (Creighton). This bill
would prohibit cities and counties from requiring certain benefits and protections for employees. 
This relates to any form of employment leave (such as paid sick leave), hiring practices,
employment benefits or other terms of employment. This bill would also gut non-discrimination
ordinances that now protect more than six million Texans in most major Texas cities.  Currently
Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Ft. Worth, Plano, and San Antonio have municipal non-discrimination
ordinances, and several other cities and counties have such policies for city workers and contractors.

We issued an Action Alert (245 responses) and testified against the bill and the bill died in the
Senate. Then the author resubmitted it as four bills, SB 2485, 2486, 2487, and 2488, hoping parts of the bill would pass. Again we issued an Action Alert, “Fight Anti-Local Control Bills,” and got 491 responses. All four bills passed the Senate but died in House Calendars.

The other bill we fought was SB 17, the “License to Discriminate” bill (Bettencourt), which said a
holder of a state professional license could deny services on the basis of “sincerely held religious
beliefs (except medical professionals). We testified against it and issued an Action Alert which got
245 responses. The bill passed the Senate but died without a hearing in House State Affairs.