On Thursday, April 30, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. The hearing could be the precursor to a full reauthorization of the program which was last reauthorized in 2005, it has expired and received a series of short term extensions since it last reauthorization expired.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) called for ways to strengthen the program praising the post-1996 era of reforms and increased work but went onto say, “Recent years have seen troubling trends, especially on whether State welfare programs are doing enough to engage adults in work. ‘ He also criticized a 2012 Administration guidance saying, “…the Obama Administration released their unprecedented ‘guidance’ suggesting states could waive the work requirements altogether. While no states sought waivers, that move sent a clear signal that work requirements don’t matter to the Obama Administration.” He did however suggest that there could be some common ground between the subcommittee and Administration when he highlighted, “…the President’s Budget would prohibit the use of ‘nongovernmental third party expenditures to meet state Maintenance of Effort requirements’ and includes ‘a provision to ensure that states use
The Subcommittee heard from Peter Cove, Founder, America Works, Sherrie Smoot ,Former America Works Client, Eloise Anderson, Co-Chair of the Secretaries’ Innovation Group, and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Heather Reynolds, Catholic Charities Fort Worth, Tracy Wareing, American Public Human Services Association, (APHSA) and LaDonna Pavetti, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Much of the testimony focused on how TANF needs to be reformed to better focus on methods and practices that will better prepare people for work. Only the first speaker, Peter Cove, focused his comments on getting tougher on adults by tightening work and work definitions and requiring greater sanctions and fewer exemptions from work requirements. Many of the speakers including the two state representatives called for improvement in how states are 5
allowed to use and count vocational education, education and job search activities. There was also a consensus on reduced paper work requirements.
LaDonna Pavetti highlighted the declining numbers of families that are now assisted by cash welfare. She pointed not just to the decline in families on assistance from 4.7 million families in a much better 1996 economy to 1.7 million families in 2013. The previous program, AFDC, covered 68 of every 100 poor families while TANF now covers 26 of every 100. At the same time the growth in the numbers of children lifted out of “deep poverty” has shrunk to 629,000 compared to 2.2 million children in 1996. Counting other benefit programs such as SNAP and tax credits still results in over 600,000 families in deep poverty, a 50 percent increase between 1996 and 2011.
The Administration has not offered a TANF reauthorization proposal in 6 years and instead in recent budgets has offered to work with Congress over a reauthorization.