CHN: Congress Lets Successful Job Creation Program Expire

The national unemployment rate stands at 9.6 percent.  Long-term unemployment is at historic highs. The United States has an 11 million jobs deficit and there are roughly five unemployed workers for every job opening, according to the Economic Policy Institute (click here to see report).  Despite these sobering statistics and the expectation that it will still be long before our economy produces sufficient jobs for the unemployed, Congress allowed a successful jobs program that generated a quarter of a million jobs to expire on September 30. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, established last year through the Recovery Act, provided states over $1 billion to operate temporary subsidized job creation programs. Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands used these funds to support a range of subsidized jobs programs that placed thousands of low-income workers and youth in jobs.
The TANF Emergency Fund subsidized jobs program has been a successful and efficient way to benefit not only workers and families, but employers and local economies as well. Workers recount how the jobs have helped them meet their basic needs, improve family stability and attain valuable work experience and skills. In some cases the temporary jobs have led to permanent, living-wage jobs. Employers were able to expand their businesses instead of having to lay off workers. One example is the Internet Archive, an organization based in San Francisco, which was able to hire 145 unemployed workers with the TANF funds. Robert Miller, Director of Books at the Internet Archive, shared what the added capacity meant for their company during a webinar sponsored by the Half in Ten Campaign and the Coalition on Human Needs (click here to view webinar).  Miller told listeners how they were able to hire 6 times as many staff, and with the scarce resources that were freed up they expanded their office space and purchased much-needed equipment, which resulted in their ability to build their digital library three times as fast. Miller credited the TANF Emergency Fund program for providing Internet Archive with the confidence and means to expand its business. So successful was the program that Internet Archive and thousands of other employers actively advocated for an extension of the program. On September 15, supporters of the program joined Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) at a press conference in which they released a letter signed by over 1,200 employers across the country urging Congress to extend the TANF Emergency Fund for another year. Yet, despite the strong support for the program and its proven success, Congress let the program expire on September 30.

The TANF Emergency Fund also has allowed states to provide either ongoing cash assistance or one-time aid payments to help families recover from emergency situations.  In the absence of the Emergency Fund, states had only the flat regular block grant funding from TANF, despite rising need due to the recession.  In all, the TANF Emergency Fund directed $5 billion to states over the past two years, all of which has been spent.

In the waning days before Congress left town for the mid-term elections, Senate Republicans blocked multiple attempts to extend the program. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) included a one-year extension of the program, costing $1.5 billion, in a revised and fully offset bill to extend a set of popular business and individual tax cuts that expired at the end of 2009. However, a unanimous consent attempt to move the bill forward was rejected.  There was also a push to attach an extension of the TANF Emergency Fund program to the Continuing Resolution that Congress had to pass in order to keep the government operating after October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, but Republicans objected to most items being attached to that measure. Finally, there was an effort to bring a free-standing and fully-offset bill to extend the program to the Senate floor, but Senator John Enzi (R-NV) objected. Without the federal funds to continue the program, most states will end their subsidized jobs program. Advocates will continue to press Congress to extend the successful TANF Emergency Fund program during the lame duck session in November, which might help states resume their programs.

To see a breakdown of how many jobs were created in each state and what each state plans to do now that the program has expired see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities paper.

For personal accounts from employees of the Internet Archive of what the TANF Emergency Fund has meant to them, click here to see their story project.

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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families