On Tuesday, November 3, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held another in a series of hearings on human services funding and programs with this one titled Better Coordinating Welfare Programs to Serve Families in Need.

The Subcommittee has held several hearings over the past two congresses. In his opening remarks Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA), said, “Today’s hearing takes a step back and reviews the dizzying array of programs designed to help low-income families, and how that patchwork of programs complicates the challenges for those most in need.” He also went on to indicate that there are 80 programs they are referring to when they talk about welfare.

The 80 figure is one drawn from past GAO and Congressional Research Service (CRS) summaries of income support and other support programs. The list however includes a wide range of programs and services not necessarily viewed as welfare including programs in health care, child care, education and foster care to name a few areas.

Boustany went on to say, “A number of these programs, like TANF, SSI, and child welfare, are under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee…And many others involve other committees, complicating our efforts at better coordination. But we have to start somewhere. This hearing will give us a chance to review this array of programs, understand the challenges created by their sheer number, and review some state efforts to rationalize the services they provide. That understanding will lay the groundwork for future efforts to modernize and streamline or, at the very least, better coordinate these programs …”

One of the witnesses was former Congressman Goeff Davis (R-KY) who held the gavel for the Subcommittee before he retired. As was the case when he held that position he focused his comments on the need for better data systems and coordination. An issue he has long argued could streamline funding and services.

A second witness was the former head of Michigan’s human services department, Maura Corrigan, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The former judge recently stepped down from the administration of Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI). Her remarks focused on efforts in Michigan under the current governor and she emphasized the need for greater state flexibility in federal funds. She specifically endorsed a proposal earlier offered by now Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS), the “Opportunity Grant” proposal that would block grant 11 federal programs (that proposal also eliminates SSBG for inefficiencies in outcome tracking).

Nick Lyon, also from Michigan and the current head of that state’s Department of Health and Human Services also discussed the need for flexibility and the need for coordination but he chose to emphasize the need for greater prevention services and funding. He used child welfare as one example stating, “…a family who is identified as “at risk” for abuse and neglect may be eligible for mentoring or training. A community driven program that focuses on parental resilience may give the parents the tools necessary to cope with stressful situations and make the right parental decisions. If that training did not occur, and a parent abused or neglected a child, a costly set of interventions is initiated to ensure that the child is in a safe and secure environment. This involves Children’s Protective Services staff, case investigators, behavioral health providers, judges, and potentially law enforcement. The child might be placed in foster care and could eventually be adopted. By preventing abuse or neglect, we have stopped a traumatic situation for the parents and, most importantly, for the child. While ensuring the safety and security of the child is our utmost responsibility…”

Robert Greenstein, Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, emphasized that the range of government programs are more effective than what critics claim. He included examples of reductions in poverty and child poverty rates once support programs are taken into account and that the poverty rates in many instances would be closer to 30 percent without these programs. He also argued that in recent years costs have gone up because of the great recession and over the years the growth in health care costs. Medicaid is included in anti-poverty programs despite having as one of its key costs long term care for the elderly and individuals with disabilities. He was also asked by Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY) about the importance of SSBG. Greenstein agreed with Crowley on its significance to human services funding.

As Chairman Boustany indicated in his opening comments the Subcommittee had held a hearing on a series of TANF reforms. Those hearings and the legislation had bipartisan support around issues of work requirements, state spending and new efforts to help those on assistance. Last summer there was hope for bipartisan movement from the House but that planning has stalled out—at least for now.