CHN: Obama Administration Seeks Proposals from States to Improve Employment Outcomes for TANF Participants; Republicans in Congress Say No

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will consider requests from states for pilot projects to test new ways to meet the employment goals of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  HHS will issue waivers of existing TANF rules to states that submit plans with specific measurable performance targets leading to at least 20 percent more TANF adults getting jobs compared with the state’s current performance.  There was an immediate volley of opposition from House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), whose committees have jurisdiction over the TANF program.  Both have filed legislation to prohibit the Obama Administration from proceeding with these waivers.
The July 12 Information Memorandum from HHS provided states with a number of illustrations of the kinds of activities that could be approved.  Responding to some governors’ complaints that TANF participation rate requirements mired states in paperwork without helping TANF parents to get jobs, HHS will consider proposals to negotiate employment outcomes for which states will be held accountable.  Under current law, states that use TANF funds to subsidize jobs cannot count adults who leave TANF assistance to take those jobs as meeting participation requirements.  HHS will consider waiver requests to count these employed adults in their participation rates for a specified period.  States that wish to test multi-year programs combining post-secondary education with work may also request a waiver from HHS.  In these or other approaches, HHS will require interim goals and evaluation models.  If a state is not showing “clear progress” towards these goals after a year, HHS can rescind approval of its project.

On the same day the HHS Information Memorandum was published, Chairman Camp and Senator Hatch sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asserting that the Administration did not have authority to issue these waivers.  They followed up by introducing legislation in the House (H.R. 6140) and Senate (S. 3397) to prohibit HHS from exercising this authority.

Secretary Sebelius, in a letter replying to Camp and Hatch, indicated that Republican and Democratic governors alike have requested more flexibility to increase the number of TANF adults who find jobs.  Most recently, governors in Utah and Nevada have requested the opportunity to submit waiver proposals.  Secretary Sebelius noted that under current rules, states “can get more credit for assigning people to do job search than for placing them into paying, private-sector jobs.”

Members of Congress seeking to stop HHS from issuing these waivers may bring the bills up for a vote, or may include similar language in appropriations bills or other legislation that Congress must enact.  In the House, there was talk of bringing up the Camp bill on a suspension calendar.  Such a procedure would expedite consideration, but would require a two-thirds vote in the House.  To get a two-thirds vote, a number of Democrats would have to join with Republicans.  Sensitivity about being accused of undermining TANF’s strict rules may incline enough Democrats to vote in favor of the prohibition to pass the bill in the House.  Support is less likely in the Senate, but advocates are concerned that such a prohibition could be inserted into an omnibus spending bill, with too many other must-pass provisions to impel Senate leaders to insist on deleting it.

It now falls to states to seek waivers from HHS.  If specific proposals are forthcoming, HHS will be able to demonstrate its insistence that it is only seeking to test approaches likely to increase employment, not to undercut TANF work requirements.

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