Background The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will expire on September 30, and must be reauthorized by then with important program improvements. However, as the end of the current legislative session nears, it is increasingly unclear whether there will be sufficient time for the Senate to pass a comprehensive reauthorization bill, reconcile it with the bill passed by the House of Representatives, and have the President sign reauthorization into law. Congress will likely go home by mid-October, and the agenda that must be completed by then includes creating a Homeland Security agency, a possible resolution on Iraq, and passing all the appropriations bills necessary to keep the government funded and running.
While Congress may return after the November elections for a lame-duck session to finish its work, it is also possible they could pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until early next year, and leave unfinished business including TANF reauthorization to be completed in the next Congress. But with increasing state budget deficits and new national-security related demands on the federal budget, it is still important that TANF programs be improved and funding levels, especially for child care, be set this year.
The Senate must act now on the Work, Opportunity, and Responsibility for Kids (WORK) Act of 2002, approved by the Senate Finance Committee in July. A bipartisan group of 50 Senators recently signed a letter, organized by Senators Lincoln and Snowe, calling on Majority Leader Daschle to bring the WORK Act to the Senate floor. (See list below.) While the WORK Act could be further improved, many of its provisions reflect the Conference's priorities for reauthorization and will make TANF more effective at supporting those struggling to move from poverty to self-sufficiency and improving the lives of children. Maintaining the current hourly work requirements, additional flexibility in counting educational activities as work, giving states options to provide benefits to legal immigrants, and increasing mandatory child care funding by $5.5 billion over five years, are among the improvements in the Senate WORK Act. (For more on the Senate Finance Committee bill, see our letter to the Senate dated September 20, 2002, available our website, www.usccb.org/sdwp, where you will also find information on the House of Representatives' bill, H.R. 4737.)
Action Requested: Contact your Senators and stress the importance of passing a bill to improve and reauthorize TANF. Let them know you'd like the Senate to act on the Senate Finance Bill as soon as possible, and ask them to petition Senator Daschle and the leadership to schedule a vote soon especially if your Senator has not already joined the recent letter to Senator Daschle. Urge Senators to support additional resources to meet the child care needs of low-income families, while maintaining the WORK Act's work provisions, and to provide full restoration of benefits eligibility for legal immigrants, when the WORK Act comes to the Senate floor.
Senators who signed the letter urging action on the Senate Finance Committee bill: Lincoln, Breaux, Bayh, Lieberman, Bingaman, Miller, Bill Nelson, Rockefeller, Graham, Ben Nelson, Kennedy, Durbin, Landrieu, Murray, Cantwell, Kohl, Carper, Wellstone, Harkin, Torricelli, Biden, Clinton, Kerry, Wyden, Leahy, Akaka, Carnahan, Levin, Schumer, Stabenow, Edwards, Mikulski, Feingold, Feinstein, Johnson, Corzine, Dorgan, Sarbanes, Dodd, Cleland, Jeffords, Snowe, Hatch, Specter, Chafee, Bennett, Domenici, Voinovich, McCain, G. Smith. (Senators Boxer and Collins each sent their own, similar letters.)
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. Specific policies we believe are important for achieving our goal include: Restoring benefits to legal immigrants; Giving states greater flexibility to count job training, vocational and post-secondary education as work; Removing the barriers to two parent families receiving assistance; Ensuring that those leaving welfare have access to transitional Medicaid and food stamps benefits; and Ending the family cap.
For more information, contact Kathy Curran at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-541-3188