Sen. Patty Murray of Washington has never seen a government stocking-stuffer she couldn’t learn to like. So when spiraling costs galvanized Congress to take on welfare reform in 1996, the unflappable Mom in Tennis Shoes knew she would have to act fast to take the sharp edges off of “the end of welfare as we know it.”
Joining forces with former Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Murray argued that domestic violence victims were so traumatized by the experience that it would be impossible for them to find work within the two-year limit imposed by the incoming Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
So Murray cleverly devised a loophole called the “Family Violence Option.” Under the FVO, welfare recipients would be screened for partner abuse and referred for counseling. These persons would then be exempted from the 24-month time limit.
What compassionate conservative could argue against that?
But like many progressive programs, the devil was lurking in the details. And how did the law define “family violence”? The Social Security Act defines family violence as “physical acts that resulted in, or threatened to result in, physical injury to the individual.”
But keep reading, because it turns out the drafters of the law tucked in two seemingly harmless words near the end of the definition: “mental abuse.” Exactly what does that mean?