The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was set to expire on October 1, 2002, and Congress has been extending the current program on a quarterly basis since then. Congress intends to complete the unfinished job of TANF reauthorization this year. The House of Representatives approved its TANF reauthorization bill, H.R. 4, on February 13, 2003 by a vote of 230-192. The bill is essentially the same TANF bill that the House passed last year. (The Bishops Conference and Catholic Charities USA declined to support H.R. 4; see our February 11 letter on our website, www.usccb.org/sdwp.)
Passage of a Medicare prescription drug bill dominated the attention of the Senate Finance Committee in June, so the Committee has yet to turn to TANF reauthorization. Both the House and Senate passed Medicare bills last night, allowing members to go home for the July 4th recess. When they return, working out the differences in the bills in a Conference Committee will likely be the first priority for Finance Chairman Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). It is probably the Committee will do a TANF reauthorization mark-up in July, but it could slip depending on how the Medicare conference goes.
When the Committee does turn to TANF, there are several possible blueprints the Committee could start from the House bill, or the bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee last year, for example. But Chairman Grassley is expected to take current law as his starting point and see what changes are needed.
Among the key issues the Senate Finance Committee will address are: Restoring benefits to legal immigrants; whether to modify the current work requirements; providing key work supports for families, especially child care funding; and polices to support healthy marriages and family formation.
It is important to contact with your Senators now especially Senate Finance Committee members -- to let them know your priorities for TANF reauthorization. Contact your Senators while they are home during the July 4th recess break. Several key messages are highlighted below.
Fairness for Legal Immigrants: The Bishops( Conference has long advocated for the availability of basic necessities to all those in need, regardless of their race, creed, ethnic origin, or nationality, and we have worked to restore benefit eligibility for legal immigrants. Urge Senators to:
- Restore full benefits eligibility for legal immigrants.
- Dont increase the 30-hour work activity requirement
- Continue to apply a lower work standard (20 hours) to mothers with children under six
- Give states the flexibility to allow TANF recipients who would benefit to engage for up to two years in genuine education and training that will lead to better jobs and self-sufficiency
- Include significant new funding for child care for low-income families at least the $5.5 billion called for in last years Senate Finance Committee bill
- Extend the Transitional Medical Assistance program for five years
- Support appropriate levels of funding in addition to the current basic TANF block grant -- voluntary programs to support healthy marriages and strong families, focused on services for low.income families, with attention to the problem of domestic violence
- Require states to end policies that make it harder for two-parent families to qualify for and receive TANF assistance
- End family cap laws that deny additional benefits following the birth of a new child
Senate Finance Committee Members: Chairman Charles E. Grassley (IA), Orrin G. Hatch (UT), Don Nickles (OK), Trent Lott (MS), Olympia J. Snowe (ME), Jon Kyl (AZ), Craig Thomas (WY), Rick Santorum (PA), Bill Frist (TN), Gordon Smith (OR), Jim Bunning (KY), Ranking Minority Member 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), Blanche L. Lincoln (AR), James M. Jeffords (VT).
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:
- 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.