CHN: TANF Bill Moving

In anticipation of an especially difficult budget season, Republican and Democratic staffers in the Senate have been meeting regularly to explore common ground for moving a bill that would reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). Both sides say they do not want TANF to be reauthorized as part of a possible reconciliation bill that would cut mandatory programs under the Senate Finance Committee’s jurisdiction. In pushing the bill forward, both sides hope to stay one step ahead of any possible budget cuts and to keep better control of policy changes in a reauthorization bill.
The goal of the bipartisan meetings is to develop a bill that both Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Max Baucus (D-MT) could agree to pass in the Senate Finance Committee and then put on the floor. They are using the bill that emerged from the committee last year (Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone, or “PRIDE”) as their starting point. As a bipartisan bill, they are working to accommodate concerns of senators on both sides of the aisle by accepting certain changes to PRIDE. For example, additional funding for child care is considered likely to be included in the Finance Committee bill, not added as a floor amendment as was done last year.

Because the Committee is now looking at possible changes to PRIDE, advocates concerned about issues such as the bill’s treatment of services for people with disabilities; parents needing more education; immigrants; work requirements; as well as child care are strongly encouraged to weigh in with both Democratic and Republican staff. The timeline is very quick. They hope to mark up a TANF bill during the second week of March.

Advocates are urged to contact Senators on the Finance Committee, and other Senators who have championed important TANF issues, to weigh in now on what should be in the Finance Committee bill.

One potential hang-up is how to pay for the bill and new child care funding. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the cost of the PRIDE bill to be about $8 billion over five years. Finance Committee staff is emphatic that the $8 billion is in the base budget, and does not need to be “paid for” by spending cuts or tax increases. That bill had only $1 billion in new child care funding, but the full Senate later voted to increase child care by an additional $6 billion. To pay for the new child care funds, staff are exploring closing loopholes in other programs in the Finance Committee jurisdiction, but those “pay fors” are not without some controversy.

The Senate Budget Committee will be marking up a budget resolution the week of March 7 and Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH) has said he wants the resolution to include reconciliation instructions to the Finance Committee instructing them to make cuts to the programs under their jurisdiction. If reconciliation instructions are included in the resolution, the Finance Committee would have to produce legislation that makes those cuts – and that bill wouldn’t be ready until late spring or summer.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families law was set to expire in 2002. Congress has extended the program eight times. The most recent extension will expire March 31.

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