On Wednesday, May 23 the House Ways and Means Committee held at markup of their TANF reauthorization bill, the JOBS bill (HR 5861) with a final vote of approval cast the following morning. Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said, after the partisan vote of 24 to 12 for approval, “The JOBS for Success Act restores the promise of the 1996 welfare reforms by requiring states to engage everyone who is work eligible, meaning no family in need gets left behind.”

The bill renames the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) and includes several significant changes from draft considered by the Subcommittee. Most significantly it adds $600 million in child care matching funds but it does that by eliminating the existing TANF contingency fund at $600 million. It also allows a ten percent transfer in to Child Welfare Services, and drops the original draft proposal to redistribute the $16.5 billion TANF block grant between the states. It also remains a partisan effort and that was reflected in the Committee debate.

It does ease up on some of the more punitive work requirements that were added in the 2006 reauthorization. Outcomes for states (originally created in 1996) are shifted to the number of people who leave assistance and who are working or still working six months and twelve months later. It also eases up on how tightly work is defined including how states use education and vocational education. It restores more realistic work expectations for two-parent families that became very tough after the 2006 TANF reauthorization.

The hearing for the most part was polite but also contentious at other times as the Democrats tried to amend or at least get an agreement that there could be further modification of the Republican drafted-reauthorization. At several points the minority Democrats made the point that the $16.5 billion block grant has lost 35 percent of its value (Congressional Research Service) since 1996.

At one point Democrats were given assurances by the Chairman of the Committee Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) that there would be opportunity for the two parties to come together on a modified version before a floor vote. The result of Wednesday and Thursday deliberation however offered a little evidence that there was a willingness to change the Republican draft.

Under the Committee-approved bill, state would be able to transfer up to 50 percent of the TANF block grant into child care and/or child care-child welfare-workforce block grants. States would limited to transfer maximum of ten percent into child welfare as was in the draft but this time the ten percent transfer of the $16.5 billion would be into the more flexible Title IV-B part 1, Child Welfare Services (CWS) instead of the more limited Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF).

States could also transfer up to 10 percent into the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It continues (as was in the previous draft) the elimination of the ability to transfer 10 percent of TANF funds into SSBG. This bill, as was the case in the draft, will prohibit spending TANF funds on child care or child welfare as a result of the changes in transfer authority.

The original Republican bill would have distributed 25 percent of the TANF block grant (approximately $4.5 billion) based on child poverty requiring a non-mandatory state match. In effect it would have taken funds away from approximately half the states that have historically received a lower federal match to other states that have had a higher state match. That provision would have taken money from states like California (-$419 million), Connecticut ($-39 million), Massachusetts (-$63 million), and New York (-$373 million), and transferred to states such as Florida (+$99 million), Georgia ($75 million) and Texas (+323 million). The Committee bill dropped that idea.

There were several amendments offered by Democrats that were rejected by the Republican majority. The first was by Ranking Member Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) who offered an amendment to create $900 million in new funding that would be used for job training and other supports but it was rejected on a party line vote. Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI), who was part of the original debates in 1995 in 1996, offered an amendment to retain the Contingency Fund that is eliminated in the bill as a way to pay for child care funding increases. That too was rejected by the Republican majority. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) offered an amendment to adjust how much money out of the TANF block grant that must be spent on core services. Under the Republican version, at least 25% of the TANF funds must be spent on core services such as assistance and training. That too was rejected. There is some bipartisan consensus that states have spread out their TANF funds so widely that it is difficult to determine who is being served by spending and whether or not states are being accountable to the original mission and purpose of TANF.

Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) offered an amendment, that CWLA endorsed, that would establish a national child poverty target in the U.S., setting the goal of cutting child poverty in half within a decade and eliminating child poverty within 20 years. It would mandate the federal government to come up with a national plan to meet these targets that is developed in consultation with nongovernmental entities providing social services to low-income children and families; advocacy groups that directly represent low-income children and families; policy experts; and officials of state, local, and tribal governments, including the working group of the largest state and local associations who administer or direct policy for antipoverty programs. That was also rejected.

Republican leadership has indicated there would be a vote on their bill at some point in June. Likely it would be a part of a series of votes that would “get tough on work” in a number of areas including SNAP, housing, health care and other areas. Congressman Neal labeled the Republican bill a “missed opportunity” for bipartisan effort.