CHN: House Passes Welfare Reauthorization Measure

Current Law Extended Until June 30 While Senate Prepares to Act

On February 13, 2003, the House passed a bill that would reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program through 2008. House action came quickly in the new 108th Congress, largely because that chamber passed the measure – the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2003 – without hearings or markups by the three committees with jurisdiction over the welfare program.

Nearly identical to the TANF reauthorization measure (HR 4737) passed by the House last year, the bill includes an increase in work requirements from 30 to 40 hours per week over the next five years, an increase in work participation rate requirements from the current 50 percent to 70 percent, $1 billion in additional child care dollars over the next five years, and $1.8 billion for marriage promotion programs through 2008.

Approved by a 230 to 192 vote, the House bill closely resembles President Bush’s reauthorization proposal, including a “super waiver” provision that would grant sweeping authority to the Executive Branch to allow states to waive federal rules that govern a range of low-income and other domestic programs. Eleven Democrats voted for HR 4, which was introduced by Representative Deborah Pryce (R-OH) on February 4.

The House bill imposes strict work mandates on welfare recipients while providing no new TANF block grant dollars – at a time when states are experiencing unprecedented fiscal crises. Moreover, the $1 billion increase in mandatory child care funding over five years would not even keep pace with inflation over that time. The House measure would also continue to deny welfare benefits to legal immigrants.

Democrats – led by Representative Ben Cardin (D-MD) – introduced a substitute that would have provided an additional $11 billion in child care funding over the next five years, more money to states for education and job training, and would have restored welfare benefits for legal immigrants. The substitute was rejected by a 197-225 vote. Members of the Progressive Caucus also offered a substitute, which failed on a 124-300 vote.

Advocates insist that the House bill would have adverse effects on the states, which are currently experiencing their worst fiscal crises in generations. Furthermore, they point out that in light of the current economic recession and rising unemployment, such a punitive plan could have extremely negative outcomes for welfare recipients.

While members of the Senate Finance Committee in the last Congress rejected last year’s House bill – voting for the less punitive “tripartisan” proposal instead – the full Senate never passed a welfare reauthorization measure in the 107th Congress. It is still unclear when the Senate will take up the issue this year, although some Republican leaders have indicated that welfare may be one of three issues they handle after the President’s Day recess. In the meantime, the current welfare law – originally slated to expire last September 30 – was extended through June 30 in the omnibus appropriations measure (HJ Res 2).

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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families