The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program expires on October 1, 2002, and Congress must act to reauthorize the law before then. The House of Representatives approved its TANF reauthorization bill, H.R. 4737, on May 16 by a vote of 229-197.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to meet the week of June 24 to work on the bill it will send to the Senate floor. While several reauthorization proposals have been put forth in the Senate, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA) hope to draft a bipartisan bill and are likely to take as a starting point the plan developed by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John Breaux (D-LA), Jim Jeffords (I-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), all members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Among the key issues the Senate Finance Committee will address are: Whether to modify the current work requirements; providing key work supports for families, such as child care, food stamps, and health care; polices to support healthy marriages and family formation; restoring benefits to legal immigrants; and whether to increase funding for TANF and related programs.
It is important to contact with your Senators now especially Senate Finance Committee members -- to let them know your priorities for TANF reauthorization. Several key messages are highlighted below. For more information, see the USCCB's June 17 letter to Senate Finance Committee members and other TANF materials on our website, www.usccb.org/sdwp.
Modification of Work Requirements: While we strongly support continuing the emphasis of TANF on work, the Committee should avoid changing the work requirements in ways that could limit states' flexibility to develop programs that focus on getting recipients into decent jobs so they can support their families and move from poverty and welfare to self-sufficiency.
- Urge Senators to maintain the current 30-hour work activity requirement, instead of increasing it to 40 hours, and to continue to allow mothers with children under six years of age to perform 20 hours of work activities per week instead of 30
- Urge Senators to give states more flexibility to count educational activities as work for a longer period of time and to expand the definition of allowable education activities to include adult basic education and post-secondary education
- Urge Senators to support restoring full benefits eligibility for legal immigrants.
- Urge Senators to extend the Transitional Medical Assistance program for five years.
- Urge Senators to include sufficient funding to ensure that child care needs of low-income families are met, under both current law and any increases in work requirements
- Urge Senators to support appropriate levels of funding for example, the amounts proposed in the President's plan -- for programs to support healthy marriages and strong families, and for research and technical assistance on family formation and healthy marriage activities. Programs should primarily assist low-income families, and should include concern for the problem of domestic violence
- Urge Senators to require states to end policies that make it harder for two-parent families to qualify for and receive TANF assistance
- Ending family cap laws that deny additional benefits following the birth of a new child
- Urge Senators to increase the TANF block grant, at least to reflect inflation.
Senate Finance Committee Members: Chairman Max Baucus (MT), John D. Rockefeller IV (WV), Tom Daschle (SD), John Breaux (LA), Kent Conrad (ND), Bob Graham (FL), Jeff Bingaman (NM), John F. Kerry (MA), Robert G. Torricelli (NJ), Blanche L. Lincoln (AR), James M. Jeffords (VT), Ranking Minority Member Charles E. Grassley (IA), Orrin G. Hatch (UT), Frank H. Murkowski (AK), Don Nickles (OK), Phil Gramm (TX), Trent Lott (MS), Fred Thompson (TN), Olympia J. Snowe (ME), Jon Kyl (AZ), Craig Thomas (WY)
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.
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.