CHN: Congress Acts on Welfare Reauthorization
House To Vote on Reauthorization Bill Next Week, Proposals Unveiled in Senate
On May 2, both the House Ways and Means and the Education and Workforce Committees approved companion bills to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Both bills, which closely resemble President Bush’s reauthorization proposal, would impose strict work mandates on welfare recipients but provide no additional funds for childcare, transportation, or other needed work supports. In addition, the bills would continue to deny welfare benefits to legal immigrants, require states to terminate a family’s benefits after just two months of failing to meet program requirements, and devote significant TANF resources to marriage promotion activities.
The Ways and Means Committee approved its welfare reauthorization bill, HR 4090, on a 23 to 16 party-line vote. In an attempt to soften criticism of the GOP-backed legislation approved a week earlier at the subcommittee level, Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) revised the measure to include poverty reduction as a goal of TANF, and limited a provision that would give sweeping authority to federal cabinet secretaries to grant states’ requests to waive a variety of program rules (known as the “super waiver”) to the TANF and Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) programs – child support and the unemployment insurance program were dropped. Thomas also added language to the measure to reward “super achiever” states – those with the largest caseload declines – by providing them with credit toward their work participation rates.
The committee approved an amendment offered by Representative Gerald Kleczka (D-WI) to require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct more analyses of state audit reports on TANF as a way to enhance oversight over private corporations administering program benefits and services. The committee also adopted an amendment by Representative John Tanner (D-TN) to eliminate a section of the subcommittee-approved bill that would have repealed the authority for states to operate their TANF programs under existing waivers. Democratic amendments to increase program funding, enhance education and training opportunities and expand work flexibility were defeated.
The Education and Workforce Committee approved its welfare reform bill, HR 4092, on a 25 to 20 party-line vote. Prior to passing the bill, the committee adopted an amendment offered by Representative Michael Castle (R-DE) to increase childcare funding for fiscal year 2003 from $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion. The committee also approved an amendment by Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) to add poverty reduction as a goal of the welfare program.
In addition, the committee agreed to an amendment by Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA) that would allow welfare recipients to attend school full-time for four months in a 24-month period – a slight increase over the three months allotted in the subcommittee-approved bill. The committee also accepted an amendment by Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ) requiring states to assess the particular needs of recipients and their families when they develop self-sufficiency plans. Like their counterparts on the Ways and Means Committee, Republicans on the Education and Workforce Committee defeated several Democratic amendments designed to enhance work supports and other services for TANF program participants.
On May 9, the two committee-passed bills were combined into one measure – HR 4700. The measure clarifies which programs would be eligible under the “super waiver”: food stamps, title 1 of the Workforce Investment Act, the Employment Service under the Wagner-Peysner Act, section 505 of the Family Support Act, adult education programs under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, programs under the Housing Act (expect section 8 and public housing programs under section 7 of the Act), and the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act. The bill would also allow the food stamp program to be block-granted in five states. The House is expected to debate and vote on the bill, as well as a Democratic substitute, on May 15.
Meanwhile, action on TANF reauthorization is heating up in the Senate, with the release of two competing proposals last week. Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Tom Carper (D-DE) were joined by a group of centrist Democrats in proposing “The Work and Family Act.” At the same time, a “tripartisan” group of senators – John Breaux (D-LA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), James Jeffords (I-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) – unveiled a set of principles intended to influence the welfare reauthorization debate in the Senate.
While it falls short in providing families with all the tools they need to become economically secure, the tripartisan proposal is, in the view of many anti-poverty advocates, a good starting point for debate in the Senate. Although the proposal maintains President Bush’s call for increasing the percentage of a state’s caseload that must be engaged in work activities from 50 to 70, it rejects the Administration’s plan to mandate that recipients work a 40-hour workweek. In addition to maintaining the current 30-hour workweek requirement, the tripartisan plan includes increased funding for childcare, a restoration of TANF benefits to legal immigrants, a credit to reward states for moving recipients into jobs, and enhanced educational opportunities for parents – although not to the degree that many advocates would like.
It is expected that Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Minority Member Charles Grassley (R-IA) will incorporate some of the tripartisan principles in a bipartisan bill they intend to introduce in the next few weeks. Earlier predictions that the Finance Committee will mark-up their reathorization bill before the Memorial Day recess have come into question – the committee may not act until June. Congress must reauthorize legislation governing the TANF program by September 30, 2002.
For their part, Senators Bayh and Carper have significantly modified their original proposal in response to criticism that it too closely resembled the President’s punitive plan. While the revamped version of the bill includes TANF and Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants, increased funding for childcare, and an employment credit, the measure retains the restrictive 40-hour workweek and work participation rates proposed by the Bush Administration. In addition, the proposal includes only limited improvements to the meager education and training opportunities available under current law. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Zell Miller (D-GA), Jean Carnahan (D-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) are all original cosponsors of the bill.