Two House Committees will mark-up similar bills to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program this week. On Wednesday, May 1 the Education and Workforce Committee will consider the Working Toward Independence Act (H.R 4092), sponsored by 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee Chair Howard McKeon (R.CA). The bill was approved by the Subcommittee on April 18 on a 9-7 party line vote. Mark-up of the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2002 (H.R .4090), introduced by Human Resources Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R.CA), is tentatively scheduled for the next day, Thursday, May 2. The Human Resources Subcommittee approved it April 18 on a 6-4 vote. After mark-up, the two bills will be merged into one for consideration on the House floor, probably before Memorial Day. Senate Committees are expected to begin work on reauthorization bills soon.
It is important to be in contact with your Representatives and Senators now to let them know your priorities for TANF reauthorization. Below are some messages based on the proposals in the House bills. For more information, see the USCCB’s testimony before the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee on April11, 2002 – found on our website at www.usccb.org/sdwp.
The bills that came out of the Subcommittees closely mirror the President’s proposal. Some of the provisions are described below. Contact your Member of Congress, especially if he or she is on the Ways and Means or Education and the Workforce Committees, and highlight the following issues:
Work provisions: Both bills Increase the work participation rates states must meet, from 50% to 70%, and increase the hours of activities individuals must engage in to be counted towards the work participation rates. The total hours required would rise from 30 hours to 40 hours per week, with the first 24 hours restricted to employment, work experience, or community service. Under current law, recipients are also allowed to engage in job search or vocational education activities during the first 20 hours per week. The current caseload reduction credit would be replaced by a similar but less generous formula.
- Urge Members to support amending the bills’ work participation rate and hours of activities provisions to get away from “one size fits all” requirements and give states more flexibility in designing programs that will be effective at helping TANF recipients move from welfare, to work that will allow them to support their families and achieve self-sufficiency.
- Urge Members to support amending the bills’ to allow states to count states greater flexibility to count job training, vocational and post.secondary education as work, especially for the “core” hours requirement (20 hours under current law, 24 hours as proposed in the Herger and McKeon bills).
- Urge Members to support additional funding for these programs, and to increase the TANF block grants at least by inflation.
- Urge Members to support appropriate levels of spending – like those proposed in the Herger bill -- on marriage support and support programs for low-income couples and on research and technical assistance.
- Urge Members to limit states’ ability to count spending on marriage programs towards their MOE requirements to a capped amount in programs for low-income couples.
- Urge Members to require states to end policies that make it harder for two-parent families to qualify for and receive TANF assistance
- Urge Members to support amendments to the bills that would bar states from imposing full-family sanctions for a first violation; to require states to provide clear, understandable information to all recipients on what is required of them and the sanctions they face if they violate those requirements; to identify and work with families at risk of sanctions; to end full-family sanctions for a first violation; and to restore benefits immediately when a violation has been remedied.
- Urge Members to support restoring full benefits eligibility for legal immigrants.
- Urge Members to oppose giving the Executive Branch carte-blanche authority to override policy and spending laws passed by Congress. Where needed, Congress can expand state flexibility through targeted changes to specific laws and program rules.
In 1996, the Catholic Bishops' Conference stated that welfare reform policies should: 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. We believe we can achieve the goal of poverty reduction through a three-pronged strategy of: Supporting meaningful work, Strengthening marriage and family life, and Sustaining the needy and vulnerable among us, especially our children, and by committing to funding TANF, at a minimum, at current levels adjusted for inflation.
Specific policies we believe are important for achieving our goal include:
- Ending the family cap;
- Removing the barriers to two parent families receiving assistance;
- Restoring benefits to legal immigrants;
- Giving states greater flexibility to count job training, vocational and post.secondary education as work; and
- Ensuring that those leaving welfare have access to transitional Medicaid and food stamps benefits.