The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently invited the public to submit comments on what changes in welfare policy the Administration should propose in connection with the reauthorizaztion of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block-grant program, which HHS administers. Comments will be accepted until November 30, 2001.
As you know, by October 1, 2002, Congress must reauthorize TANF, which was created by the 1996 welfare reform law to replace the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. TANF took a radically new approach to assisting low-income Americans, eliminating the entitlement to assistance, mandating work as a condition of receiving benefits, and putting most of the control over the programs into the hands of the states.
Share what you've learned with HHS: States, recipients, service providers, charities and advocates, among others, now have five years of experience under TANF. The HHS solicitation of comments is an important opportunity to share with the Administration the ways in which TANF has been successful in helping recipients transfer from welfare to work allowing them to support themselves and their families and the ways in which TANF has failed to meet society's responsibility to act compassionately to help the least among us. Sharing what has worked in your state can help inform HHS and other states about best practices. Sharing where the system has failed in your state can help show where new federal polices should be implemented during reauthorization, to improve TANF for everyone.
Weigh-in on two key points: While there are many policy areas you may wish to cover, be sure to weigh-in on two key points:
This is an opportunity to send a strong message to HHS on the fundamental purpose of our national welfare policy. Decreasing caseloads, promoting marriage and decreasing the number of children born outside of marriage were the goals specifically identified in the 1996 law. It is time now to make fighting poverty and improving the lives of families and children explicit goals of our national welfare policy.
Falling caseloads and new national security demands on federal resources could lead to calls for cuts in the TANF block grant. But caseloads could start climbing again as the economy weakens, and current TANF funding levels should at least be maintained so states have adequate resources to provide the work supports needed to transition welfare recipients to work. Urge HHS to make a commitment to continue funding TANF at the levels needed both to provide cash assistance to those remaining on the welfare rolls and to continue and expand the work support systems people need to get off welfare and succeed in jobs that can support their families.
In 1995, in anticipation of the national debate about welfare reform, the Administrative Board of the USCC outlined six criteria for reform in Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform. Those principles continue to be relevant, and TANF reauthorization must result in a welfare policy that:
- Protects human life and dignity;
- Strengthens family life;
- Encourages and rewards work;
- Preserves a safety net for the vulnerable;
- Builds Public/Private Partnerships to overcome poverty; and
- Invests in human dignity.
What Can You Do
Send your comments and suggestions on TANF reauthorization to HHS by November 30, 2001. Comments can be mailed to :
TANF Reauthorization Ideas
Office of Family Assistance
5th Floor East, Aerospace Building
370 L'Enfant Promenade, SW
Washington, DC 20447,
or submitted electronically at the Office of Family Assistance website, http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/ofa/. You can also visit that website for more information.
Please also forward a copy to Kathy Curran in the USCCB's Office of Domestic Social Development, by fax (202-541-3188) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and indicate if you would agree to having your comments posted on the USCCB website as a resource for other social action directors and State Catholic Conferences.