CHN: TANF Reauthorization Likely to be Postponed
Continuing Resolution Ensures States Continue to Get TANF Funding For Now
With both the end of the legislative session and the September 30 expiration of the welfare reform law fast approaching, Congress is currently faced with many important decisions about the future of welfare. The short-term continuing resolution (CR) passed by Congress on September 26 extends the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) – the 1996 law that created the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program – until December 31, 2002. Still, lawmakers must decide whether – and for how long – to extend major parts of the 1996 welfare law.
While the recently passed CR extends the $16.5 billion TANF block grant, TANF supplemental grants, and Transitional Medicaid Assistance, it does not extend TANF waivers that expire in three states – Arizona, Minnesota, and Delaware. State and national advocates are highly concerned that if these waivers are not extended, state programs will have to make radical administrative and programmatic adjustments twice – once in the short-term CR, and once again when Congress actually reauthorizes the TANF program.
The House of Representatives passed its TANF 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). TANF provides critical assistance to low-income populations, including cash benefits and various work supports.
TANF reauthorization continues to be held up in the Senate by a busy floor schedule and lack of consensus on a time agreement for debate. In addition, both parties in the House and Senate are looking ahead to the November congressional elections, anticipating how a TANF debate could affect the turnout for their respective parties. With timing for Senate floor action still uncertain, House members are urging the Senate to complete work on TANF this year. On September 19, the House passed a resolution (H Res 525) by a 280-123 vote, calling on Congress to complete work on welfare before the end of the legislative session.
Many advocates are wary however, that a last-minute rush toward Senate negotiations and a compromise with the more punitive House bill may erode many of the advances made in the Senate Finance Committee’s WORK Act. Cautious of a “double-compromise” – one agreement within the Senate to bring the bill to the floor and one that would result from a House-Senate conference committee – some advocates insist that waiting until a later date to complete work on TANF may be the best alternative.
Because the current TANF extension is only until December 31 – when Congress will most likely be out of session – another extension will need to take place before Congress adjourns for the year. The Senate could consider TANF in a lame-duck session after the fall elections, but even then, there may not be enough time to strike a final deal with the House. If there is no agreement this year, Congress will need to pass a longer extension of current law and revisit TANF reauthorization at a later date. So far, discussions have suggested that a TANF extension could be six months, one year, or three years.
Advocates continue to work to ensure that the final TANF reauthorization measure improves access to benefits and services for all families in need; strengthens work supports like education and training, transportation, and childcare; and provides adequate TANF funding.