The Senate began debating the Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone Act (PRIDE Act) to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) welfare program on Monday, March 29. 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).
The current TANF law was set to expire on March 31, but has now been extended for another three months.
What Happened Last Week
Work on TANF reauthorization got off to a promising start, with a strong, 78-20 bipartisan vote on an amendment by Senators Olympia Snowe (ME) and Chris Dodd (CT) to add to the bill $6 billion in new child care funding for low income working families.
Soon after that, however, progress stalled over disagreements on how the bill would proceed and what amendments would be considered, including amendments to increase the minimum wage and extend federal unemployment compensation. Attempts to get a unanimous consent agreement or a cloture vote both failed. On Thursday April 1, Majority Leader Frist announced that he plans to move on to other matters next week, with no indication of whether or when the Senate will return to the PRIDE Act.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives followed the Senate in extending the current TANF program, as is, for another three months.
What Happens Next?
It is unclear what will happen with TANF reauthorization this year. The prospects for completing a full, five-year reauthorization this year are not good. The latest three-month extension will expire at the end of June, and it is very likely that the House will insist that any additional extensions include some policy changes. If that is the case, one possibility is that the Senate and House could negotiate a compromise to extend the program for a year or so in combination with a handful of their respective policy priorities, for example, more funding for child care and the healthy marriage proposal.
The USCCB supports reauthorization of the TANF program with policy changes that help, not hurt, low income families. While the PRIDE Act reflects some of our priorities, in many ways it falls short of the policies we support in TANF reauthorization, and we look for its improvement through amendments on the Senate floor. (Please see March 25 Action Alert and the attached letter to the Senate for more information). The bishops also support increasing the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits for laid-off workers who havent been able to find a job but have used up their state benefits. Each of these crucial issues for low income families should be given a full and fair debate in the Senate on their own merits, not pitted against each other.
Contact your Senators and let them know you expect them to put the needs of low-income and struggling families first, by strengthening, not undermining, TANF; increasing the minimum wage; and extending federal unemployment benefits.
Continue to urge them to support amendments to improve the PRIDE Act by:
- Restoring benefits eligibility for legal immigrants
- 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
Find your Senators local phone numbers in the blue pages of your phone directory, or call their Washington offices through the Capitol Switchboard, 202-224-3121
For more information, contact Kathy Curran, firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-541-3188, Thom Shellabarger, email@example.com / 202-541-3189, or see our website, usccb.org/sdwp/national/welfare2.shtml, for materials on TANF, minimum wage and unemployment insurance.