Last week hundreds of researchers gathered in Washington for what is now a biennial event to discuss issues related to the TANF block grant.  The event, Research and Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS) provided two and a half days of discussion around assistance to TANF families, education and training, youth development, immigrant families and child care.

Last month on May 24, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on TANF and on poverty while also approving two more bills to the TANF block grant program.  Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said, “

[the hearing was] about people, and right now there are more than 46 million in our nation who are living in poverty. Decades of experience tells us the most effective anti-poverty program is a job. Yet of those who are working-age and in poverty, nearly two in three are not working, many of them not by choice, but in large part because of the welfare system…”

In his opening remarks, Ranking Democrat, Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) said, “Republicans confuse cutting poverty with cutting poverty programs.” Levin then went on to list some of the recent cuts the Republican leadership have proposed including, the House Committee elimination of SSBG, proposed cuts to nutrition programs, elimination of refundable tax credits for the working poor.  He also offered part of the Democratic agenda including increasing the minimum wage, increasing child care funding and reforms to TANF.

Witnesses included John Engler, Business Roundtable, (and former Michigan Governor), Ms. Karin VanZant, Life Services, CareSource, Ms. Olivia Golden, CLASP,Mr. Tarren Bragdon, Foundation for Government Accountability.

Mr. Bragdon was confronted by Levin about his organization’s active efforts to oppose the state of Florida’s rejection of an expansion of Medicaid as part of the ACA. Congressman Levin took special exception to Bragdon’s comments and testimony that said we incentivize people not to work. Levin argued that access to health care is a vital component to moving people to work. A point that was supported by Olivia Golden who highlighted data that was evident that access to health care dud help people move to work.

The Committee also approved H.R. 2952, the Improving Employment Outcomes of TANF Recipients Act. Supporters describe the bill as measuring state success in helping TANF recipients find a job and build a successful career, sponsored Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) and H.R. 5169, the What Works to Move Welfare Recipients Into Jobs Act. This bill is described as promoting proven local solutions that help more people get back to work by establishing a “What Works Clearinghouse” to catalogue effective programs.

It is unclear what the next steps on TANF will be. The law expires at the end of the fiscal year, as has been the case for several years. While there has been some bipartisan agreement on the current bills acted upon they do not go as far as last year’s discussions. Some of that legislation would have improved the flexibility regarding work requirements. The majority party, however received some criticism from more conservative elements after last year’s considerations. To this point the Senate has not even considered TANF reauthorization, so if and when the House moves it’s unclear how receptive senators would be. That means a possible short term extension near the end of this year.