On Wednesday the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee will hold a hearing on reauthorization of TANF in what could be a serious effort to reauthorize the block grant. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was last reauthorized for a full five years in 2006 with a series of yearly and monthly extensions since it last expired.
As part of the announcement the Republican committee leadership also announced a series of bills that may surprise some observers, legislation that might garner bipartisan support. To this point there has been almost no interest by either side in reauthorizing the TANF block grant since it last expired. The Administration has sought to make some parts more flexible such as their attempt at state waivers in the summer of 2012 but that drew a strong reaction from congressional Republicans who saw it as an administrative overreach.
Many would argue that the 1996 TANF block grant is a shadow of what used to be a system of cash assistance for poor families as the AFDC entitlement. When it was created in 1996, the predecessor program, AFDC, provided 68 out every 100 poor families were AFDC cash assistance. By 2014 only 25 percent out of every 100 poor families receiving cash assistance under the TANF block grant. The block grant of $16.5 billion has lost over 30 percent of its value due to inflation. In addition it has become a flexible fund for many services beyond cash assistance. In 2013 only 30 percent of combined federal and state funds ($29 billion) was spent on cash assistance to poor families.
TANF has become a major source of funding for child welfare but not necessarily for wrap around or intervention services. A large portion of flexible funding used by states is used for foster care funding and services and kinship placements.
The package of House Republican bills would tighten up state spending requirements which have been looser since the 1996 law was enacted. The original 1996 law had imposed tight requirements on what states counted toward the state maintenance–of-effort spending. Since then states have been able to count charitable and other state spending to reduce what they had to spend in actual state welfare dollars. The package of bills would also ease work requirements in some cases to allow states to innovate in moving adults to work, encourage more evidence-based approaches to work promotion and encourage better case management.
After introducing the package, the Subcommittee released a draft reauthorization bill for comment and testimony. The bill draft makes several changes in regard to adult worker assessments and case management. It also tightens up state spending requirements to narrow what states can spend to meet their spending requirements. It also includes new project funding to promote marrage, fatherhood and social impact bonds.
The bills that had been introduced earlier last week include:
- H.R. 2952, the Improving Employment Outcomes of TANF Recipients Act, introduced by Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA), would reserve a portion of the TANF block grant to provide payments to states based on their success in helping former TANF recipients enter, retain, and advance in employment.
- H.R. 2967, the Using Evidence to Move Welfare Recipients into Work Act, introduced by Rep. Todd Young (R-IN), would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to catalogue successful approaches used to help welfare recipients move into work.
- H.R. 2968, the Coordinating Assistance for TANF Recipients Act, also introduced by Rep. Young, would provide up to $300 million annually to states to test ways to better serve welfare beneficiaries by improved case management, better coordinated benefits, and a choice of service providers.
- H.R. 2969, the TANF Marriage Penalty Elimination Act, introduced by Rep. George Holding (R-NC), would end the separate and higher work requirement for two-parent families on welfare, which today serves as a marriage penalty. Under this legislation, all families would be subject to the same work requirement, regardless of whether they are headed by one or two parents.
- H.R. 2966, the Reducing Poverty through Employment Act, introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), would add a new purpose to TANF—reducing poverty by increasing the employment entry, retention, and advancement of welfare recipients—to make sure states do more to help families escape poverty and move up the economic ladder.
- H.R. 2959, the TANF Accountability and Work Activity Improvement Act, introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), would increase the share of adults on welfare expected to work or prepare for work by preventing states from receiving certain “credits” that today reduce the number of adults on welfare expected to do so in exchange for their benefits.
- H.R. 2990, the Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act, introduced by Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL), would provide up to $100 million to states to test whether subsidizing TANF recipients’ wages can be an effective means of helping them enter the workforce.
- H.R. 2991, the Preparing More Welfare Recipients for Work Act, introduced by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) and Rep. Tiberi (R-OH), would encourage states to engage more recipients in activities leading to self-sufficiency and simplify the current work participation requirement each state must meet.