CHN: House Moves Forward on Welfare Reauthorization
Committees Consider GOP Proposals
On Thursday, April 18, two House subcommittees approved nearly identical bills to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The Human Resources Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee passed the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2002 (HR 4090), introduced by Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R-CA). The bill was approved on a 6 to 4 party-line vote. The Education and Workforce Committee’s 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee passed a similar bill, the Working Toward Independence Act (H.R 4092), on a party-line vote of 9 to 7. HR 4092 is sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Howard McKeon (R-CA).
Both subcommittee-approved bills closely mirror President Bush’s TANF reauthorization proposal. Each would require a greater number of welfare recipients to work longer hours while limiting the number of activities they may be engaged in for much of the week. Despite imposing these mandates, neither bill contains increased funding to provide child care assistance or other work supports to families. Furthermore, like the President’s plan, the Herger and McKeon proposals would continue to deny assistance to legal immigrants and would grant sweeping authority to federal cabinet secretaries to grant states’ requests to waive a variety of program rules (a provision known as the “super waiver”).
In addition, Republican-backed amendments were adopted in both subcommittees to impose tougher sanctions on families for failing to comply with TANF program rules. The Ways and Means subcommittee passed a provision offered by Representative Phil English (R-PA) to cut off welfare benefits to the entire family (including children) when a parent fails to comply with work requirements. The amendment passed by a vote of 8 to 5. The subcommittee also approved a technical amendment offered by Representative Nancy Johnson (R-CT) to allow funds in the bill to be used for “relationship” education and skills programs for non-married pregnant women and expectant fathers. The bill already contains funds for programs that promote “healthy marriages.”
For its part, the Education and Workforce subcommittee approved, 8 to 7, an amendment by Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) to terminate cash benefits for families when a parent fails to work for two consecutive months. The panel also approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment by Chairman McKeon designed to clarify which programs under the committee’s jurisdiction would qualify for waivers.
Democrats’ attempts to add amendments to the bills failed in both subcommittees. Among the Democratic amendments defeated by the Republican majority on the Ways and Means subcommittee were those to add $11.5 billion over five years for child care services; replace the caseload reduction credit under TANF with an employment credit to reward states for placing recipients in jobs; drop the 40-hour work requirement in the bill; and allow the transfer of marriage promotion funds to programs that reduce poverty or provide child care services.
Democratic amendments that failed in the Education and Workforce subcommittee include those to eliminate the “super waiver” provision from the bill; remove the legislation’s 40-hour work requirement; count education and job skills training as work activities; and add an employment credit to reward states for lowering their welfare rolls and moving recipients into jobs. The Ways and Means and Education and Workforce Committees are expected to hold full-committee mark-ups of their respective TANF reauthorization bills next week.
This week, the Energy and Commerce Committee also took action on TANF reauthorization. On April 24, the full committee approved, by a 35 to 17 margin, legislation to extend for five years a $50 million-per-year abstinence-only education program administered through TANF. Opponents of the legislation assert that there is no evidence to suggest that abstinence-only programs are more effective than those that include safe-sex instruction in reducing teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to broaden the program to include safe sex instruction.
The committee also approved, by voice vote, legislation to extend a provision in current welfare law that allows parents who have left TANF for work to retain their Medicaid eligibility for one year. Despite Democrats’ desire to see the provision extended for five years (other provisions of the welfare law will be reauthorized for five years), the GOP-led committee approved just a one-year extension.
The Energy and Commerce Committee-passed bills will be merged with legislation that comes out of the Ways and Means and Education and Workforce Committees. A floor vote is expected on TANF reauthorization legislation in the House before Congress adjourns for Memorial Day recess.
The reauthorization process in moving more slowly in the Senate, where Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA) are planning to introduce a bipartisan measure in the next few weeks. The Finance Committee may mark up the bill by the Memorial Day recess. The committee’s Social Security and Family Policy Subcommittee held a hearing on April 25 to examine how to best serve TANF recipients who face serious barriers to employment. At the hearing, Subcommittee Chair John Breaux (D-LA) expressed concerns about proposals to limit state flexibility and tighten TANF work requirements.
Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Tom Carper (D-DE) are still planning to introduce a reauthorization bill that closely resembles the President’s proposal. Anti-poverty advocates have been lobbying hard against the measure, which appears to have lost some momentum – the proposal has gained no new cosponsors in recent weeks. Senators Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and John Corzine (D-NJ) also plan to introduce a comprehensive TANF reauthorization bill in the next few weeks.