CHN: TANF Reauthorization Remains Unfinished
Lawmakers, Advocates Consider Extension of Current Law
With the end of the legislative session on the horizon, Senate welfare negotiations continue to be hindered by a busy floor schedule and lack of consensus on what a final Senate reauthorization bill should include. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) – the 1996 law that created the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program – expired on September 30.
States continue to receive federal funding to run TANF programs through a short-term continuing resolution (CR) passed by Congress on September 26, which extends TANF through December 31, 2002. However, because the current TANF extension expires on December 31 – when Congress will most likely be out of session – another extension will need to take place before Congress adjourns for the year.
It remains unclear when Senate floor action on TANF will take place, but if TANF is not considered this session, the program must be handled in a lame-duck session after the fall elections. So far, discussions have suggested that a TANF extension could be six months, one year, or three years.
With prospects for a full TANF reauthorization growing increasingly bleak, lawmakers must now decide what to include in a longer-term extension of major parts of the 1996 welfare law. Some Senate Finance Committee members and staff recently weighed in with some suggested principles for inclusion in a three-year extension. It is presumed that Senators from both parties took part in these negotiations, but it is unclear whether the House or the White House will endorse the proposal.
Particularly because next year’s fiscal constraints could result in TANF funding cuts, many advocates are encouraged by some Senators’ attempts to move TANF negotiations forward toward a three-year compromise. However, some advocates fear that in a rush to reach an agreement, many of the advances made in the Senate Finance Committee’s Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids (WORK) Act of 2002 could be left behind.
The House of Representatives passed its TANF reauthorization bill (HR 4737) on May 16, and the Senate Finance Committee approved its version of HR 4737, the bipartisan WORK Act, 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.