CHN: House Approves Bill to Extend TANF and Block Obama Waiver Authority

Come March 27, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will expire if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it.  Since that deadline is the same as the one for FY 2013 appropriations (see article entitled “Funding for FY 2013 Pending in the House and Senate” in this issue), many had assumed that Congress would extend TANF within the spending bill.  The House left TANF out of its Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY 2013 spending, and instead passed a separate bill on March 13 (H.R. 890) to reauthorize TANF through December 31 and also to block a July Obama Administration initiative to offer states the opportunity to improve work outcomes for TANF parents.

As soon as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a memo to states providing new flexibility to help more parents find and retain employment, political opponents jumped all over it, claiming that it gutted TANF’s work requirements and went beyond the waiver authority allowed to the Administration.  These claims were made repeatedly in presidential campaign television advertisements and have been repeated since in Congressional hearings.  While it is true that states seeking a waiver would be able to substitute a different approach to work placement for the rigid participation requirements in TANF, the waiver memo and subsequent communications from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius made clear that states would only be able to operate with this waiver if they could demonstrate superior work outcomes – specifically, at least 20 percent better outcomes compared with the state’s past performance.  Current law requires minimum hours of participation in certain allowed work activities, with narrow limits on the type of education that counts and no credit for helping a parent find a job with pay high enough so that the family leaves TANF.  The Administration wants to allow states to come up with alternative programs in which the number of hours of participation is not as important as the successful outcome of finding a job.

That was not persuasive to Republicans in the House and Senate.  H.R. 890, the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013, passed by a vote of 246-181, largely along party lines (18 Democrats joined 228 Republicans in voting for the bill; 3 Republicans joined 178 Democrats in opposing it).

The bill now goes to the Senate, which has included the temporary reauthorization of TANF in its FY 2013 CR (in section 1522).  The Senate bill provides a simple extension of TANF, and does not seek to limit the waiver authority.  Advocates are hoping that the House will agree to the extension within the CR, and will not insist on ending the waiver authority, which the Senate majority is not inclined to do.

(For more background on the TANF waiver controversy, see Just the Facts:  Obama’s Welfare to Work Plan by Deborah Weinstein in the Huffington Post.)

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