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Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ENYART. Mr. Speaker, I haven't been in Washington very long. Like so many in southern Illinois and across our Nation, I answered the call to serve. I grew up in a household where I was taught the importance of fairness, duty, and honor. Whether it was walking the beans on my grandparents' farm or working with my father on the line at Caterpillar, I understood the importance of hard work, fair pay, and taking responsibility for myself and our family.

When I was 19, I enlisted and arrived for duty at Scott Air Force Base, a vital component of our national security and major employer in the district I now represent. For 35 years, I served in the military. For the past 5 years, I served as the Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, where I led our response to natural disasters and oversaw the largest deployment of Guard troops since World War II. Serving alongside those 13,000 soldiers and airmen and hundreds of civilian employees proved to me that the resiliency of Illinoisans, whether recovering from floods, ice storms, or earthquakes, or coming together as a community to support our service men and women overseas, is unparalleled.

Today, I offer the final amendment to the bill. It will not delay nor kill the bill nor send it back to committee. If adopted, the bill will proceed immediately to final passage, as amended.

From my experience as an enlisted man to that of commander of the Illinois National Guard, I'm concerned about how this bill interferes with States' rights and might unfairly affect unemployed veterans and their families, victims of domestic violence, and victims of natural disasters, as well as grandparents caring for children whose parents are deployed.

In January, families in Sparta, a town I represent in southern Illinois, had the joy and blessing to welcome home over 150 soldiers with the Guard's 661st Engineer Company and 662nd Engineer Fire Fighting Detachment from Afghanistan. I was the commander who signed their deployment orders and sent them into harm's way. I was honored to see their safe return. For many of these men and women, their return means making a young family whole again. They could not have borne their responsibilities in Afghanistan without support from grandparents, spouses, and a community like Sparta.

That's why I'm so alarmed by this bill in its current form. Why would Congress seek to make it more difficult for a single parent or grandparent to care for children while their mother or father is deployed overseas? Is that the message we want to send our troops, that their service is a burden to those back home?

For our veterans in Sparta and across the Nation facing new, sometimes heartbreaking challenges in their transition to civilian life, know that the promises we made to them are on the line. For us in southern Illinois, I'll be blunt. We need jobs.

Southern Illinois hasn't seen an economic recovery yet. Out of 102 counties in Illinois, six in my district in southern Illinois are among those struggling most, with more than 20 percent of families trying to make ends meet on incomes less than $23,000 a year.

The fact is that our heroes, our veterans returning home, don't necessarily have jobs waiting for them. That's why this bill in its current form is so out of touch with the realities that our veterans face. Instead, Congress is telling our veterans and our military families: your service isn't good enough. You haven't done enough for our Nation. Once again, Congress has gotten it wrong.

Another example, in Illinois we don't qualify assistance for victims of domestic violence. That's why I have to ask, given the critical need for us to responsibly reduce the deficit and actually work on improving our economy, why would Congress focus on questioning the expertise and recommendations made by my State or any other?

Where I come from and where I'm proud to represent, we all share the southern Illinois values of hard work, integrity, and fairness. Veterans and military families, victims of domestic abuse, communities overcoming natural disaster, like Harrisburg, Illinois, these are the good people who shouldn't be pawns of politics in Congress, and we owe them the assurance that this bill will not reduce critical assistance.

I urge my colleagues to stand by our veterans and military families. I urge them to consider honoring our home State's authority. I ask they pass this commonsense amendment to invest in the resiliency of our communities.

I yield back the balance of my time


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