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   Congress Begins Considering Reauthorization of TANF


Congress Begins Considering Reauthorization of TANF

The reauthorization of welfare—Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)—is being taken up in the Senate Finance Committee, and is expected to go to a floor vote in the next few weeks. At issue is $7 billion in childcare funding, increased opportunities for education and training, and the required "work week" for parents with children under age six.

An estimated 12 percent of the US population now lives in poverty, according to recent studies. This represents an increase of 1.3 million over the previous year.

According to analysts of the National Organization for Women, "Republicans and Democrats have been locked in disagreement over a significant increase in childcare monies that the Democrats wanted—and a serious increase in the number of hours (40 hours of "work participation") that the Republicans insisted on" for parents receiving assistance.

It appears that the committee will be able to reach a bipartisan agreement to allocate $6 to $7 billion over five years for childcare subsidies. The Republicans have given up on insisting that all mothers in the welfare-to-work program have to work 40 hours per week. Instead, mothers of pre-school children (about half the women on TANF) will have to work 24 hours per week; those with children over age six will be required to work 34 hours.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)'s Parents As Scholars Program bill is also being considered. It would improve opportunities for a percentage of welfare-to-work recipients to attend a two- or four-year college full-time.

Though the committee may reach a consensus on these provisions, it remains unsure that a majority of senators will agree on these measures.

The NOW analysts charge that some aspects of the proposed new legislation are "worse than current law"—the welfare reform act passed in 1996. Among the provisions of the Grassley draft bill, Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone (PRIDE) (the language had not yet been finalized as this story went to press), are the following items that NOW finds objectionable:

  • Marriage promotion, a program to persuade poor women to marry, would provide $100 million a year in matching grants to states and $100 million a year for research and demonstration projects related to marriage.

  • A fatherhood initiative, including provisions from the Responsible Fatherhood Act of 2003, which would provide $21.5 million a year in grants to up to 19 states for demonstration projects that promote marriage, parenting help and job preparation.
The Senate Finance Committee draft probably will not restore TANF or Medicaid/CHIP benefits for legal immigrants, or improve procedures for assessing and treating barriers to employment such as serious mental and physical disabilities, substance abuse or family violence.

The "super-waiver" provision in the proposed legislation would allow up to 10 states to override all federal requirements in their TANF program, low-income housing programs, Head Start and other human needs programs. This means that these states could ignore protections written into federal law to protect civil rights, improve services and set eligibility and service standards.

For more information, visit the forum on the Coalition on Human Needs' Welfare Reauthorization Project.

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This story was published on September 19, 2003.
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