PHOENIX - State Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she regrets a 2015 vote for a human services bill that strictly limits welfare aid to poor families with children.
Earlier this month, Arizona became the only state in the nation to limit families who qualify for the program to one year of assistance. Other states allow up to five years for assistance through the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program.
"I don’t think a year is sufficient for someone who is truly down on their luck," Townsend said this week during a recorded panel discussion on 12 News Sunday Square Off.
TANF is a joint federal state cash assistance program for poor families with children. According to the Arizona Republic, the one-year limit means an estimated 2,500 people -- including 1,500 kids -- will no longer qualify for the average $275 monthly payment.
Townsend is a two-term Republican State Representative of Arizona's District 16. She is also co-founder of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party. She voted in favor of the human services bill in 2015.
But Townsend said as a widow and a mother of fatherless children, she empathizes with women who run into hardship. Townsend said she disagrees with the law's language that prevents program administrators from taking into account an individual's circumstances.
“I think that going forward, we need to revisit this," Townsend said.
When asked further why she voted for the bill, Townsend said she was conflicted. She also criticized former Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert.
“I think it’s important to remember whose bill this was. This was our senate president’s bill,” Townsend said. “Part of that decision is the fact that [Biggs] has very well trained us. He’s punitive in his nature, and if we didn’t follow along, we would suffer the consequences."
When pressed further about her disagreements with Biggs, Townsend accused the 14-year state legislator and current congressional candidate of fostering a culture at the state capitol she described as "a heavy-handed, top down, ramming things through in the middle of the night approach."
"It is a culture many of us are trying to change," Townsend said.
Townsend also accused Biggs of refusing to communicate with her and preventing bills she sponsored from progressing through the legislature for two years. Townsend said she believed Biggs' actions were payback because she gave a radio interview in support of a bill Biggs opposed in 2013.
“[In 2013] He would refuse to meet with me. He didn’t answer any of my calls or texts. He killed all my bills. Finally I cornered him and asked for a conversation, and he said I should have never called into the radio station in the first place to talk about that bill,” Townsend said. “When it comes to leadership, Biggs, I don’t know he knew how to be a leader. Anyone can be punitive and act like that. But in terms of being a leader, it takes more than just being a jerk."
When contacted about the welfare law and Townsend's comments, a spokesperson for Andy Biggs said Biggs was not available for interviews. Biggs' campaign consultant Dequire issued the following statement:
"Andy Biggs was unanimously elected Senate President by his colleagues because they knew he would be steadfast in defending conservative values and advocating for limited government, no matter how unpopular his positions may be with the mainstream media. Biggs has always been a public servant who puts principles over politics, and that’s why 12 state senators, 8 state house members and Congressman Matt Salmon have all supported his campaign for Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District.”
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