On Monday, March 29, the Senate will begin debate on the “Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone Act” (PRIDE Act) to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) welfare program. The House of Representatives passed its version of TANF reauthorization, H.R. 4, last year by a party-line vote. (The PRIDE Act is known by the House bill number, H.R. 4).
Meanwhile, the current TANF law is set to expire on March 31. The Senate has passed a three-month extension of the current law, as-is, and the House must now act.
While the PRIDE Act as approved by the Senate Finance Committee on a party-line vote does reflect some of our priorities, in many ways it falls short of the policies we support in TANF reauthorization.
Positive aspects of the PRIDE Act include: maintaining the current list of activities that can count as work; extending for five years and simplifying the Transitional Medicaid Program; providing funding for fatherhood programs and marriage and family formation activities; and taking a first step on a state option to allow TANF recipients to address substance abuse or other barriers to employment, or to take care of a disabled child.
However, the PRIDE Act does not reflect our priorities for TANF in several key areas: it does not restore benefits eligibility for legal immigrants; does not include enough new funding for child care; does not increase the amount of time states can count education and training as work; increases the hourly work requirements, including for single parents with children under 6; and should allow states to count substance abuse treatment and activities to address other employment barriers towards work for a longer period of time. (If you would like more information on our policy priorities for TANF reauthorization and how the PRIDE Act measures up, please see the attachment. But see “Action Requested” below for our message to the Senate.)
Contact Your Senators Immediately and urge them to support amendments to improve the PRIDE Act by:
- Restoring benefits eligibility for legal immigrants
- Providing at least an additional $5.5 billion in mandatory child care funding
- Giving states more flexibility to provide education and training, by allowing vocational education to count as work for two years
- Maintaining the current hourly work requirements, especially for single parents with children under 6
- Expanding the length of time states can allow welfare recipients to participate in substance abuse treatment and activities to address other employment barriers
USCCB Position: The Catholic Bishops' Conference has consistently called for welfare reform policies that: Protect human life and dignity; strengthen family life; encourage and reward work; preserve a safety net for the vulnerable; build public/private partnerships to overcome poverty; and invest in human dignity. Based on these principles, we believe a central goal for TANF reauthorization should be to address the moral scandal of so much poverty in the richest nation on earth, through policies that support meaningful work, strengthen marriage and family life, and sustain the needy and vulnerable among us, especially our children; and by committing to funding TANF, at a minimum, at current levels adjusted for inflation.
USCCB Priorities for TANF Reauthorization
(Issues addressed in the PRIDE Act are noted)
Supporting Work: We strongly support continuing the emphasis of TANF on work. Work is the ordinary means by which individuals support themselves and their families and contribute to the common good. The TANF program must be improved to provide participants with the support they need to find productive work, with wages and benefits that permit families to leave welfare and poverty behind and to live in dignity and self-sufficiency. TANF reauthorization should reflect the following work policies:
- Provide at least $5.5 billion in additional child care resources to make sure low-income working parents, whether on TANF or not, have access to adequate child care.
- Sensible and fair work requirements that allow parents on welfare to meet their obligations to their families; for example, by maintaining current law on the number of hours per week participants must work, and continuing the lower hours per week requirement for mothers with children under six. (The PRIDE Act continues the two-tiered structure, but increases work hours for everyone).
- Give states more flexibility to count genuine education and training activities as work for 24 months and to include adult basic education and post-secondary education as countable activities. (The PRIDE Act includes a limited program to allow some post-secondary education).
- Allow states to count treatment for substance abuse, mental or physical disabilities, and domestic violence toward core work requirements, for the length of time necessary to complete effective treatment programs; for example, three months is not sufficient time for someone to successfully beat addiction. (The PRIDE Act moves in the right direction, but can be improved).
- Restore Social Services Block Grant funding to $2.8 billion per year, as originally provided in the 1996 welfare reform law.
- Make sure participants have access to transitional medical assistance for a full year after leaving welfare for jobs. (The PRIDE Act does this).
- Reward states for moving people into work, not for simply reducing caseloads. (The PRIDE Act moves towards this).
- End state welfare rules that discriminate against two-parent families. (The PRIDE Act does this).
- Allow federal funding to states to provide single parents considering marriage, and married parents struggling to stay together, the help they need to build and sustain healthy marriages, through voluntary marriage-support programs, such as counseling, mentoring, and building relationship skills. (The PRIDE Act does this).
- Ensure that funding for marriage and family support activities is in addition to the basic TANF block grant and, if included as a TANF policy, focused on low-income couples who otherwise may not be able to afford the assistance they need to keep their families strong and healthy. (The PRIDE Act funding is in addition to block grant, but the focus on low-income families could be strengthened).
- Take special care to identify and assist families suffering from domestic violence.
- Help all parents, married or single, to acquire the resources they need to meet the needs of their families.
- Encourage states to assist parents, often fathers, who do not live with their children and may not yet have the economic or emotional capacity to support their children. (The PRIDE Act does this).
- Allow states to make sure more child support payments go directly to families, which helps children both economically and emotionally, by strengthening their bond with their non-resident parent. (The PRIDE Act makes progress on this).
- Extend current programs to encourage abstinence. (The PRIDE Act does this).
- End the lifetime ban on TANF and food stamp eligibility for former prisoners who have paid their debt to society, so they can get the support they need to find work and support their families.
- Full restoration of eligibility of legal immigrants to receive publicly funded assistance, a key priority for the Bishops’ Conference since the 1996 welfare reform law barred federal help to legal immigrants.
- Prohibit family cap laws, which offend pro-family and pro-life principles -- the dignity of human life and well-being of children, both born and unborn.
- Give states flexibility in applying work requirements to those who care for young children or disabled family members. (The PRIDE Act makes progress on this).