CHN: Senate Committee Expected to Mark Up TANF Bill Next Week
Conservative Republicans Introduce President’s Reauthorization Plan in the Senate
On June 18, Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) introduced a comprehensive welfare bill (S 2648) that largely mirrors President Bush’s plan to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The House passed similar legislation (HR 4737) in May.
Like the Bush plan and House-passed bill, the Sessions/Hutchinson measure would increase the hours welfare recipients are required to work each week from 30 to 40, and would mandate that states place 70 percent of their caseloads in jobs – up from the current 50 percent requirement. The Senate GOP measure also contains the “superwaiver” 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.
With the introduction of the President’s plan, conservative Senators have staked out a position to the right of the more moderate proposals at play in their chamber. A tri-partisan group of Senators on the Finance Committee – Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Jeffords (I-VT), John Breaux (D-LA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) – have forwarded a set of principles for reauthorization that, while needing improvement, are widely considered among advocates to be a fair starting point for negotiations. Republican Senators George Voinovich (OH), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Pete Domenici (NM), Robert Bennett (UT), Mike DeWine (OH), and Susan Collins (ME) have endorsed the tri-partisan plan.
The tri-partisan proposal would, among other things, maintain the current 30-hour workweek for welfare recipients, increase funding for childcare, give states the option to restore federal TANF benefits to legal immigrants, reward states who move parents into higher-paying jobs, and allow more education and training to count as a work activity.
It is expected that the tri-partisan principles will form the basis of legislation to be marked up in the Senate Finance Committee next week. Preliminary discussions indicate that Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) may provide $11 billion in new TANF spending in his mark-up vehicle. This total would include up to $5.5 billion for childcare, $2.5 billion for TANF supplemental grants, $1 billion for child support, and $2 billion for the Social Services Block Grant. The committee mark will likely be released the morning of June 24.
Due to increasing pressure from the White House and conservative Senators, it is unclear whether the committee’s top ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, will agree to the tri-partisan principles or this preliminary spending framework. It also remains unclear when the full Senate will consider TANF reauthorization legislation; there is a possibility that reauthorization may not occur at all this year. In that case, current law would be extended for one year.