CHN: Congress Holds Hearings On Welfare Reauthorization
HHS Secretary Defends Administration’s Proposal on Hill
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson was called to testify before the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees this week, as Congress gears-up to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Secretary Thompson presented President Bush’s TANF reauthorization plan to the committees, which have jurisdiction over the program. Democratic members raised concerns about the plan’s call for sharp increases in work participation rates among recipients without providing additional money for child care or other support services.
The Administration’s proposal would require states to have 70 percent of their caseloads engaged in certain work activities by 2007, up from the current requirement of about 30 percent. In addition, the plan would increase the hours per week a recipient must work from 30 to 40. Many Democrats have joined the nation’s governors, state program officials and advocates in arguing that the proposed requirements would be nearly impossible to implement because of, among other things, the weak economy, higher unemployment rates and a lack of funding in the President’s plan for work support services.
While most Republicans on both committees praised the President’s proposal, one moderate on the Senate Finance Committee, Olympia Snowe (R-ME), joined with Democrats in voicing concerns about inadequate funding for child care. In general, Secretary Thompson responded to members’ concerns by asserting that funding for child care would be available to states through other programs such as early Head Start and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).
The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to mark-up TANF reauthorization legislation in April, with floor action slated for May. The Senate will act more slowly, but will produce a bill before Congress adjourns in the Fall. The 1996 law that created TANF expires in September.