CHN: Finance Committee Debates Marriage and TANF

Senators Offer Testimony
On May 16, the Senate Finance Committee held its third welfare reauthorization hearing. Originally slated to focus on family formation policies, the hearing was expanded to include testimony by Senators Dodd (D-CT), Santorum (R-PA), Bayh (D-IN), and Carper (D-DE) to more broadly cover welfare issues.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) emphasized the need for support for working families, explaining, “In the end, welfare reform should be about creating more opportunities for children in low-income families.” In response to questions about marriage, Baucus cautioned the government against getting too involved. Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA) represented the opposing side of the marriage debate, commenting, “the President deserves high praise for his proposal to promote child well-being and healthy marriages in the welfare reauthorization.” He cited various data that point to increased risk factors for children growing up without married parents.

Senators’ comments covered a variety of TANF-related issues, focusing specifically on child care, marriage and fatherhood, and current reauthorization proposals. Senator Dodd outlined his bill, the Access to High Quality Child Care Act (S 2117), which emphasizes work supports for the working poor and focuses on the accessibility, affordability, and quality of child care. Dodd commented, “If the goal of TANF is to gear parents up to work, then we ought not pull the rug out from underneath them when they are working.”

Senator Santorum praised the President’s plan for TANF reauthorization, specifically the marriage promotion and family formation provisions. Senators Bayh and Carper rounded out the member panel by outlining the principle pieces of their Work and Family Act of 2002 (S 2524), which they formally introduced on May 15. Bayh focused on fatherhood, suggesting that because current welfare law places rules and restrictions on mothers without imposing the same demands on fathers, fatherhood initiatives should be viewed in the context of women’s rights.

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Wade Horn described the Administration’s stance on marriage promotion and family formation in TANF reauthorization. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) reacted to Dr. Horn’s testimony with concerns about domestic violence and state flexibility. She asked if the Administration expected the government to act as counselor, and posed questions about domestic violence safeguards and state program development.

Finally, state and local groups had the opportunity to present their perspectives. Members heard testimony from Dr. Isabel Sawhill of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Kate Kahan of Working for Equality and Economic Liberation, Howard Hendrick of Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services, and Vicki Turetsky of Center for Law and Social Policy. Ms. Kahan included her personal story as a former welfare recipient, noting, “Marriage was not the solution to my poverty or my son’s poverty.”

The Finance Committee, along with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will have oversight on the Senate version of welfare reauthorization. The House passed its TANF Reauthorization bill, HR. 4737 – a combination of the Ways and Means and Education and Workforce proposals – last week.

Income Support
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families