CHN: Senator Rockefeller Introduces TANF Bill

House Republicans Expected to Introduce Legislation by Mid-April

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation (S 2052) on March 21 to reauthorize and improve the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The first comprehensive TANF bill introduced in the Senate, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act Amendments of 2002 would provide additional TANF funding, increase work supports for TANF recipients – including transitional Medicaid for welfare leavers, and improve state accountability.

A central component of S 2052 is the replacement of the caseload reduction credit with a new employment credit – a provision also included in the Making Work Pay Act of 2002 introduced last week by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Representative Sander Levin (D-MI). This provision would offer rewards to states for moving people from welfare to work, with specific emphasis on good-paying jobs.

Like the House Democratic bills – HR 3113 and HR 3625 – introduced by Representatives Patsy Mink (D-HI) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) respectively, Senator Rockefeller’s bill would encourage states to make poverty reduction a goal of TANF. The legislation would provide a $300 million bonus fund to reward states that reduce poverty, and states with increased child poverty rates would be required to submit “measurable milestones” in their corrective action plans.

While advocates support many provisions of the bill, there are concerns that the Rockefeller proposal does not go far enough in addressing the erosion of the $16.5 billion federal block grant. The bill would gradually increase the TANF block grant to $17.4 billion by 2007; by contrast, the Cardin bill would increase the federal allocation to $18.7 billion over the same period. The Rockefeller bill would also renew TANF supplemental grants and the TANF Contingency Fund, in addition to providing increases in funding for the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

The measure would retain the current provision allowing states to exempt 20 percent of their caseloads from the federal five-year time limit on benefits, but would allow states that choose the Domestic Violence Option to assist survivors of domestic violence outside of that 20 percent limit. In addition, the bill would provide states with the option to cover legal immigrants under TANF, regardless of their date of entry into the country. Currently, immigrants may not receive assistance until they have been in the US for five years.

While Democrats in both chambers have introduced comprehensive and stand-alone TANF bills, Republicans have yet to forward a detailed proposal in either chamber. House Republicans are expected to unveil a comprehensive TANF bill that closely mirrors the President’s reauthorization proposal by mid-April, but it remains unclear when Senate Republicans will introduce legislation.

Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) are said to have secured four additional co-sponsors for their Work and Family Act – which also includes many of the provisions contained in the President’s proposal – and Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT) are expected to introduce bipartisan TANF legislation in the coming months. Senators Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and John Corzine (D-NJ) have also drafted comprehensive TANF legislation that will probably be introduced soon after the Congressional recess ends.

On the House side, Representative Calvin Dooley (D-CA) may introduce the companion piece to Bayh/Carper, while Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ) could drop a moderate TANF bill as well. The TANF program – over which the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees have primary jurisdiction – must be reauthorized by September 30, 2002.

Income Support
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families