CHN: TANF on the Senate Floor? Maybe
Confidence was building that the TANF reauthorization bill would be on the Senate floor during the week of April 4, replaced shortly afterward by the more familiar TANF uncertainty. Senate offices and advocates are readying amendments should debate begin on the PRIDE bill (S. 667) within the next week or two.
One possible amendment that has raised alarms would increase the work participation requirement to 40 hours a week (the House bill’s required hours). It is rumored that Senator Talent (R-MO) will offer such an amendment – he has previously filed similar legislation. Under current law, parents must perform 30 hours of work or related activities per week. The PRIDE bill now requires 34 hours. PRIDE appropriately expands what counts as work and includes other provisions that, compared with the House bill and in some cases current law, increase the likelihood that parents will receive the services they need to overcome barriers to employment. If the hours were to be increased to 40, the balance carefully crafted in PRIDE that broadens the activities that count as work would be seriously undermined, causing more hardships for families (and burdensome requirements on states).
For a summary of PRIDE’s work provisions, see the March 11 Human Needs Report .
Although the final word on amendments is far off, several that would make improvements in PRIDE have been discussed. A top priority is restoration of Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for legal immigrant children and pregnant women. The amendment (the Immigrant Child Health Improvement Act, or ICHIA) is expected to have bipartisan sponsorship, with Senators Chafee (R-RI), Clinton (D-NY), Nelson (D-FL) and Bingaman (D-NM) strong supporters. Other restorations of benefits for immigrants are also being considered – including a state option to provide TANF benefits for legal immigrants, and the Women’s Immigrant Safe Harbor Act, allowing immigrant women escaping domestic violence to claim benefits. Senators are working with advocates to avoid the loss of Earned Income Tax Credit refund checks for immigrant working families. Some of the cost of providing additional child care in the PRIDE bill was to be paid for through a provision that would result in certain immigrant families losing the EITC. If negotiations are not successful, Senator Bingaman (D-NM) may offer an amendment to find other funding for child care.
Amendments are also expected that would increase the number of months parents receiving TANF could participate in vocational education. Current law allows only 12 months. Amendments in the past that garnered bipartisan support have called for 24 months.
Another amendment related to the problem of domestic violence would ensure that participation in marriage promotion activities is voluntary, whether the funding for those activities came from the new marriage promotion demonstration projects or from the basic TANF block grant. Voluntariness and privacy protections already in the PRIDE bill apply only to the new marriage promotion programs. Senator Murray (D-WA) is expected to offer this amendment.
Up to 10 states would be able to replace the current emphasis on counting hours with a different approach that would measure outcomes, in an amendment expected to be sponsored by Senator Alexander (R-TN) and others. States would design plans whose success would be judged by whether parents actually get good jobs and improve their children’s well-being.
Senators may seek more funding for marriage promotion, which many advocates believe would be an unbalanced approach that will result in fewer funds for welfare to work programs, basic cash aid, child care, or other work supports.
Other amendments may allow states to continue or reinstate TANF programs that had operated under an expired federal waiver; would provide more civil rights protections; and make poverty reduction a purpose of TANF.