For the eighth time since 2002, Congress temporarily extended the law authorizing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) just before it was set to expire. This extension will run through March 31, 2005. No policy changes were made; the extension allows funding to continue so states can operate their TANF programs under the provisions of existing law.
As the September 30 deadline for TANF approached, there seemed to be no realistic possibility that the Senate would resume debate on full reauthorization. A week before the deadline, Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Evan Bayh (D-IN) introduced legislation tying a six-month TANF extension to two years of funding for marriage promotion and responsible fatherhood programs. The Healthy Marriages and Responsible Fatherhood Act of 2004 (S 2830), would end existing funding for two bonuses to states: one giving funds for good records in job placement, retention, and wage levels and another rewarding success in reducing out-of-wedlock births. The $300 million a year in federal funds for those bonuses would be diverted to marriage and fatherhood programs.
The Santorum-Bayh legislation was stuck after many Senators refused to give unanimous consent for it to be taken up on the floor. Many advocates did not want to take up these two policy provisions without considering any of the other changes being sought for TANF, including more child care funds, child support improvements, and more help for immigrants. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) made a counter-offer to add child care funding, which was rejected. Senators Santorum and Reid then sparred about the possibility of resuming consideration of the full TANF reauthorization, including votes to increase the minimum wage. The abbreviated debate ended, with no action taken on the Santorum-Bayh bill.
On September 30, the House approved, a six-month extension bill with no policy changes. The Senate followed suit with a voice vote later that day.
Advocates were pleased the harsher work requirements in the House TANF legislation (HR 4) have not moved to final passage, but remain disappointed that child care and other supports remain unavailable to so many families. With TANF having lurched from one short-term extension to another for more than two years, advocates hope Congress will conclude “eight is enough” and will focus on TANF well before the end of March.