With less than three weeks before the Memorial Day break, the House majority is preparing to use the less than 14 legislative days to flex their muscle with a range of new work requirements in anti-poverty programs. The efforts will focus on nutrition programs, targeting SNAP, but they will also look at housing services including youth aging out of foster care and then extend their efforts to a reauthorization of TANF.

The House effort, which is also targeted to a November voting audience, is in part coordinated with the Administration’s “welfare reform 2.0.”

The week before last, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, proposed several ideas to raise rent subsidies in public housing although his ideas require congressional action. In offering his reforms he seemed to disconnect from the rising housing prices and pressure across the country over the past decade telling the Washington Post, “Every year, it takes more money, millions of dollars more, to serve the same number of households. It is clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable.”

Part of that effort is HR 2069, Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2017, which would give preference in housing vouchers to youth aging out of foster care. The bill, which has bipartisan support, does not increase the number of vouchers so these youth would be competing against other needy families and individuals. It also includes one of the many new work requirements being promoted by the Administration.

As a condition the young person would have to meet a weekly 35 hour work requirement or be engaged in vocational, technical, or workforce development training or in an apprenticeship, on a full-time basis, as classified by a vocational, technical, or workforce development training institution or entity; enrolled in a secondary school, an institution of higher education, or other institution providing post-secondary education, on a full-time basis, as classified by an educational institution; or engaged in a combination of the various activities.

Generally studies and research indicates that far less than 10 to 20 percent of former foster youth ever make it into one year of college, so the vast majority of young people aging out will face a number of barriers already.

It would require the housing agency to make sure the young person was in compliance. It provides no additional support for the young person and doesn’t instruct the potential young person that they are entitled to Medicaid coverage to age 26 (under the ACA) if they exit care—another area where some states are attempting to use work requirements to reduce Medicaid coverage.

A 2015 U.S. Labor Department study of workforce development programs examined programs for “youth disconnected from work and school” stated that, “[these youth] have the most difficult challenges succeeding in adulthood, but there is some evidence that they can benefit from comprehensive and integrated models that combine education, occupational skills, and support skills.” [Emphasis added]. The legislation, like similar efforts in other proposed program changes, mandates work but does not offer up a way to either provide or coordinate these services and supports that are needed. Title IV-E vouchers have never been fully funded at its 2002 $60 million level, instead it is still as $43 million below its one-time high of $45 million. Approximately half the states have not extended foster care beyond the minimum age of 18 despite having the option to extend coverage to 21 since the passage of the 2008 Fostering Connections Act.

The bill is expected to come up in the House Financial Services Committee this week. CWLA has not endorsed the legislation.

Also this week the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee will hold a hearing, “Jobs and Opportunity: Legislative Options to Address the Jobs Gap.” The hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, is expected to take up a reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which requires legislative action by the end of September.

The legislation will be partisan since the majority Republicans have not reached across party lines as they did in an initial draft bill in 2015. That legislation made marginal efforts to strengthen the current law by refocusing exiting TANF funds to core assistance services. It also included more flexibility while providing a greater focus on job and vocational training and moved away from simply encouraging states to reduce caseloads as a success measure. That legislation which was discussed in the House Ways and Means Committee never moved from Committee due to opposition from conservative organizations.

This expected TANF bill will likely toughen work requirements, including items such as drug testing and it will not increase the block grant which has lost more than a third of its 1996 value due to inflation.

The work and drug testing requirements are somewhat ironic. As Congress ratchets up its demands for more evidence-based and evidence-informed practices, job training programs have not been held to this standard, despite a more demanding and rapidly changing global workforce that leaves many without a higher education behind. In regard to drug testing, some members of Congress, including more conservative members representing areas of the country hit by the opioids epidemic’ have noted how difficult it is for some of their constituents to get jobs and the difficultly employers are having in finding people who don’t test-positive for drug use. The drug testing mandates usually are not tied to access to state licensed/approve substance use treatment and in many instances the requirement of a drug test may end up chasing some applicants away from needed supports that may be fundamental to successful recovery from substance use addictions.

All of these new work stipulations (including the House efforts on nutrition–see below) are in part tied to the President’s E.O., Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility. The President orders various federal Departments (Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education) to toughen work requirements. The President’s directive include: 1) a review of all regulations and guidance to make sure they are consistent with the principles outlined in his order; 2) a review of any public assistance programs that do not require work for benefits or services, and 3) a review of public assistance programs that do require work and determine whether the enforcement is consistent with the executive order.