CHN: Senators Urge Daschle to Bring Welfare to Senate Floor
TANF Reauthorization Still Stalled
A busy Senate floor schedule and lack of consensus continue to delay movement on the reauthorization of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) – the 1996 law that created the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Set to expire on September 30, 2002, TANF provides critical assistance to low-income populations, including cash benefits and various work supports.
While the House of Representatives passed its reauthorization bill – HR 4737 – on May 16 (see the May 24 edition of The Human Needs Report), and the Senate Finance Committee approved its version of HR 4737, the bipartisan Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids (WORK) Act of 2002, on June 26 (see the August 2 edition of The Human Needs Report), timing for Senate floor action on TANF reauthorization remains unclear. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) has pointed to a crowded agenda and the absence of a time agreement for debate as potential roadblocks to Senate consideration.
Many Senators remain optimistic that the bill will reach the floor this year however, and have sent a letter to Senator Daschle urging him to make TANF reauthorization a priority. The letter, sent to Daschle on September 11, was drafted by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and co-signed by 48 additional Senators. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who each sent their own letters, joined the signatories – 40 Democrats, 9 Republicans and Independent James Jeffords of Vermont – in their support of considering the bill this year.
“We believe prospects are strong for reasonable, bipartisan legislation to be signed into law this year,” the Lincoln/Snowe letter states. “We are writing to let you know that we enthusiastically support your efforts to bring welfare reform to the floor at the first possible opportunity, and will work with you to get the bill done quickly.”
If a bill is not agreed to this month, the Senate could take up the issue in a “lame duck” session after the fall elections. Otherwise, Congress would need to pass an extension of current law and revisit the topic at a later date. Senator Daschle indicated on September 4 that a one-year extension might be necessary, but advocates caution that a one or multi-year extension could be complicated due partly to TANF Supplemental and Transitional Medical Assistance issues.
The inability to complete welfare reauthorization this year also raises concerns among anti-poverty advocates who fear that TANF funding could be cut under worsening budget conditions in the next few years. Furthermore, advocates caution that the chances of enacting a progressive reauthorization measure will be weakened if the Republicans regain control of the Senate this November.
House Republicans and the Administration stand by the more punitive “get tough” approach included in the House-approved bill, which would mandate that states engage 70 percent of their welfare caseload in a forty-hour workweek. The Administration has criticized the Senate Finance Committee’s bill – despite the fact that numerous Republicans support it – saying that its expanded definition of work activities to allow some education and training would nullify the work requirements.