CHN: Senate Passes 1-Year Extension of TANF

But No Action on TANF Emergency Fund or Child Support Funding
The Senate acted to continue the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) for the next year with very modest changes, putting off a thoroughgoing review of the program for poor families with children.  Advocates were disappointed that the Senate did not reinstate the TANF Emergency Fund, which over the past two years has created 250,000 jobs and provided additional funding for states trying to assist the surging numbers of impoverished families in a time of continuing high joblessness.  In a further last-minute disappointment, the Senate also failed to continue certain incentive payments to states to reward good performance in collecting child support owed to low-income families.  Both the TANF Emergency Fund and the child support funding had expired on September 30.

The regular TANF program, which provides various forms of assistance to low-income families with children, would have expired on September 30, but was temporarily extended as part of the Continuing Resolution (CR) through December 3 that kept annual appropriations going for many government programs.   The Senate combined the TANF 1-year extension with approval of funding required to pay for the settlement of separate claims against the federal government by Native Americans and by African American farmers.  The legislation (H.R. 4783) passed by unanimous consent.

The TANF extension continues two longstanding funds that provide extra money to certain states:  the Supplemental Grants fund and the Contingency fund.  Supplemental Grants have been available since TANF’s inception in 1996 to provide additional funds to poor states and those with high population growth; failure to continue this fund would cut block grant funding to the affected states by about 10 percent.  The Contingency fund is available to states in times of recession to help cope with rising caseloads.  Although in the past it has not been much used, the ongoing weak economy has resulted in states depleting the fund.

In another small change, $150 million in funding was reallocated between grants for Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood programs.  In the past, $100 million was directed to Healthy Marriage Promotion and $50 million to Responsible Fatherhood.  In this new extension, each fund will receive $75 million.  The programs operating with these funds provide a variety of counseling, financial and debt management, conflict resolution, parenting, and job preparation/placement services.

In addition, states were given additional reporting requirements about their welfare to work programs, in response to complaints by some Senators that very little information has been provided by states about the types of activities in which parents participate as well as the numbers and hours of participation.  The new reports by states are to list activities even if participants are not engaged for the minimum number of federally required hours, or if there are more participants than federal law allows in specific activities.  If states do not comply with the new reporting rules, they can lose up to 4 percent of their regular TANF block grant funding.

Child Support Funding Lapses.  Until the last minute, advocates were hopeful that the Senate would include $250 million in half-year funding to continue incentive payments to states for their child support enforcement operations.  Federal-state child support collections provide about $25 billion in support to 17 million children, and serve one in four children in America and one in two poor children. The incentive payments were cut as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2006 and reduced the federal contribution to states’ child support programs by 20 percent.  Funding was restored for 2009-2010 in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but lapsed on September 30.  If funding is not restored, the cuts in state child support offices are expected to result in families losing $2 billion a year in support owed to their children.  Senate negotiators had expected that the $250 million needed to pay for this provision could come from unspent TANF contingency funds.  However, in the continuing weak economy, states have drawn down these funds, leaving none available for this purpose.  Recognition that this source of funds was not available came late, leaving no time to find an alternative.  With bipartisan support for continuing this funding, advocates continue to hope that another vehicle and funding source will be found for this cost-effective program before the lame duck session concludes.

TANF Emergency Fund Also Allowed to Lapse.  Continuing efforts to restore funding to the TANF Emergency Fund were not successful as part of the regular TANF program’s extension.  Despite the Fund’s documented success in creating temporary jobs for 250,000 parents in 37 states, Republicans objected to continuing the fund even if it were fully paid for.  For more information, see the October 5 Human Needs Report.

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