CHN: Two Proposals for Reauthorizing TANF Introduced
Two bills recently introduced in the Senate take very different approaches to reauthorizing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash assistance and help in moving from welfare to work for low-income families with children. The first, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Dec. 4, would extend TANF for three years. The bipartisan bill would eliminate the ability of states to waive existing work requirements altogether, as 22 states have done. It would also make it easier for individuals receiving TANF benefits to participate in drug abuse, mental health, or rehabilitation treatments, and broadens access to subsidized jobs or certain training programs. In addition, the bill would authorize a limited number of state and tribal TANF programs to operate 5-year demonstration projects to evaluate differing approaches to increase employment, earnings, family stability or other desired outcomes.
A more conservative bill, introduced on Nov. 29 by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), would reauthorize TANF for 5 years but would limit assistance to families with income no greater than 200 percent of the poverty level and would require all work-eligible individuals to meet monthly work hour requirements in order to receive benefits. This bill is similar to one that previously passed out of a House committee along party lines in May. There is little chance that Daines’ bill could pass in the Senate, where Democrats are unlikely to support it.
TANF has only been fully reauthorized once since its enactment in 1996, but it has been extended for short periods 25 times since 2010, including in the recent stopgap spending bill that will keep the government running through Dec. 21. The TANF block grant hasn’t received an increase in funding since 1996 and has lost almost 40 percent of its value due to inflation. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that, for every 100 families in poverty in 2017, only 23 received direct financial assistance from TANF — down from 68 families in 1996. If a bipartisan reauthorization bill does not pass both chambers of Congress as a stand-alone bill or is not added to year-end FY19 spending bills, another temporary extension into 2019 will be needed.