CHN: Representative Herger Introduces TANF Reauthorization Bill
GOP Legislation, Like Administration Proposal, Deemed Unworkable by Many
On April 9, House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Wally Herger (R-CA) introduced the Personal Responsibility, Work and Family Promotion Act of 2002 (HR 4090). Similar legislation to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program (HR 4092) was introduced the same day by Howard “Bud” McKeon (R-CA). McKeon is the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness. Both bills largely mirror the TANF reauthorization proposal put forth by President Bush in February. The Ways and Means Committee has primary jurisdiction over the TANF program, and is expected to mark-up Representative Herger’s bill later this week.
Like the Bush proposal, the Herger bill has raised serious concerns among advocates, service providers, and state and local program officials. Much of this concern surrounds the bill’s work mandates, which would require welfare recipients to work longer hours while limiting the number of activities they may be engaged in for much of the week. The bill would increase from 30 to 40 the hours per week recipients must be working (and from 20 to 40 for single parents with children under age six). Furthermore, like the Bush plan, the Herger bill would require that 70 percent of a state’s caseload be working; current law requires that 50 percent of the caseload be engaged in work activities.
Critics assert that the work requirements proposed by President Bush and House Republicans are untenable for several reasons. For instance, the proposals significantly increase work requirements, but ignore whether jobs are actually available. A recent survey conducted by the National Governors’ Association found that state officials are concerned that this will force them to create massive “make work” programs, rather than invest in education and training programs that would lead to better-paying jobs with benefits.
Furthermore, the GOP proposals call for more people to enter the workforce and to work longer hours, but do not provide any additional funding for support services like transportation and childcare. Current federal childcare subsidies are enough to cover just one in seven children; advocates warn that a significant boost in funding would be needed to accommodate families under the new work rules. In addition, a 40-hour workweek is roughly six hours longer than the national average for working mothers with children under six.
Representative Herger has added a few provisions to his bill that differ from the Administration plan. First, in response to criticisms of the Bush proposal, the Herger bill would allow recipients to take four weeks of sick and holiday leave annually. Second, Representative Herger’s legislation contains a modified version of the caseload reduction credit – which currently reduces state work participation rates by one percentage point for each percentage point reduction in caseloads since 1995, and has effectively eliminated the work participation rates for many states.
Under Representative Herger’s bill, a state’s work participation rate would be reduced if its TANF caseload fell during the three previous years. Thus, the credit would be useless to states during an economic downturn when caseload levels are likely to go up, as they did in 34 states last year. By contrast, the President’s proposal removes the caseload reduction credit, but would give states credit toward their work participation rates when recipients move into employment.
These provisions aside, the Herger bill conforms to the Administration TANF proposal on most fronts. Both would freeze TANF funding at current levels; continue the ban on assistance to legal immigrants until they have been in the country for five years; provide significant resources (up to $300 million) for marriage promotion programs; and grant federal cabinet secretaries broad power to waive, at a state’s request, any regulation in a program under their jurisdiction (for more information on the “super waiver” please see the article below).
The Herger bill will likely move out of the Ways and Means Committee by the end of April. A vote on the bill on the House floor is expected before Congress adjourns for its Memorial Day recess.
In related news, Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ) introduced a TANF reauthorization bill last week that contains provisions many anti-poverty advocates are pleased with. The bill (HR 4210) would, among other things, make poverty reduction an explicit goal of TANF, increase block grant funding to account for inflation, expand access to education and training, and soften time limits. Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) co-sponsored the bill. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) also introduced a TANF bill last week, the Welfare Reform and Housing Act (S 2116). Senator Kerry’s bill focuses on improving welfare recipients’ access to affordable housing.