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Two House Subcommittees Approve Companion Welfare Reform Bills

On April 18, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources and the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness considered companion welfare reform bills (H.R. 4090 and H.R. 4092). Both measures mirror the President’s welfare reform plan (see The Source, 3/15/01) and would reauthorize components of the 1996 welfare law (P.L. 104-193) that expire on September 30 of this year. Both bills also would increase the work requirements for welfare recipients from 30 to 40 hours per week and would require states to increase their work participation rates from 50 to 70 percent by 2007.

The Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce Committees may mark up the bills next week. H.R. 4090 and H.R. 4092 would then be merged together prior to floor consideration.

Ways and Means Subcommittee Action
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources approved, 6-4, legislation (H.R. 4090) that would reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant at $16.5 billion annually from FY2003 through FY2007 and would reauthorize mandatory child care funding at $2.7 billion annually.

Sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R-CA), the legislation is based on the President’s welfare reform proposal, with a few modifications. While both measures would require a 40-hour work week, the Administration’s plan does not include sick leave or holidays for welfare recipients. H.R. 4090, however, would require recipients to work 48 weeks per year, leaving 4 weeks to be used for sick leave or holidays, thereby reflecting the typical work schedule of most Americans.

Under current law, states may transfer up to 30 percent of TANF funds into child care block grant services. While the Administration’s plan makes no changes to this provision, H.R. 4090 would allow up to 50 percent of TANF funds to be transferred and used for child care services.

Additionally, H.R. 4090 would allow any state spending on activities designed to prevent out-of-wedlock births and strengthen families to be counted toward state spending requirements, even if families are not eligible for welfare. The bill also authorizes $20 million for a new grant initiative for programs that promote responsible fatherhood and parenting.

The legislation “reauthorizes the TANF program for 5 years, improves the program by expecting and supporting more work by welfare recipients, maintains the current level of TANF and child care funding, and expands state flexibility in important ways,” said Rep. Herger, outlining the proposals in his bill. Of course, we have “differences on how to make further changes which will be worked out during the legislative process,” he said, and added, “The bottom line is that we must move forward.”

“But we’re moving backward,” said Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). “This legislation takes a step backward…to a one-size-fits-all approach of reforming welfare,” he stated. “Back to requiring states to concentrate on fulfilling federal requirements, rather than moving welfare recipients towards self-sufficiency. And back to putting welfare recipients into ‘work activities’ instead of finding them real jobs,” he added.

Debate was contentious and antagonistic as Republicans and Democrats clashed over proposed amendments to the bill.

“The Chairman’s mark makes a basic change in the purpose of TANF to improve child-well-being,” said Rep. Cardin. “I would like to add poverty reduction as a core purpose of the bill,” he continued, introducing the first amendment to the bill. “Poverty is a serious problem,” he said, pointing out that there is a high incidence of people on cash assistance who still live in poverty. “A child who lives in poverty is 5 times more likely to drop out of school than a child who lives with a single mother,” he added.

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) acknowledged that the amendment raised an important concern. “This is something we want to achieve, to see women and children do better in America,” she said. “But if you use poverty as a goal, you will reduce motivation for achieving other goals,” she emphasized.

“This bill puts appropriate new emphasis on long-term employment and advancement,” argued Rep. Johnson, and added, “If we add poverty, we might divert funds from the actual programs that reduce poverty.”

Rep. Cardin argued, “If child poverty goes up, we have failed.”

Surprised by the reaction to the Cardin amendment, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) told his colleagues, “I’m sorry we’re starting out this way.”

The amendment was defeated by a vote of 5-8.

The subcommittee rejected all amendments by Democratic Members, and one by a Republican Member, including:

  • an amendment by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) that would have added $11.5 billion over five years for child care services;
  • an amendment by Rep. Johnson that would have allowed $20 million earmarked for marriage promotion to be transferred to fatherhood promotion;
  • an amendment by Rep. Levin that would have replaced the caseload reduction credit under TANF with an employment credit;
  • an amendment by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) that would have required the Office of Management and Budget to assess total child care needs for the states;
  • an amendment by Rep. Cardin that would have increased state flexibility in designing programs aimed at achieving TANF goals;
  • an amendment by Rep. James McDermott (D-WA) that would have dropped the 40-hour work requirement in the bill; and
  • an amendment by Rep. Stark that would have allowed the transfer of marriage promotion funds to programs that reduce poverty or to child care services.

 

The subcommittee adopted, 8-5, an amendment by Rep. Phil English (R-PA) that would eliminate a family’s entire welfare assistance if a family member refuses without good cause to participate in required work activities under a family sufficiency plan.

Additionally, the subcommittee adopted, by voice vote, a technical amendment by Rep. Johnson that would allow funds in the bill to be used for “relationship” education and “relationship” skills programs for non-married pregnant women and expectant fathers.

Education and the Workforce Subcommittee Action
The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness approved, 9-7, a bill (H.R. 4092) that would reauthorize portions of the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193). Sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA), the bill would reauthorize the work-related portions of the TANF block grant program and would reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) at $2.1 billion in each of FY2003 through FY2007.

Saying that the results of the 1996 law “have been nothing short of dramatic,” Rep. McKeon said, “There has been an historic decline in the welfare rolls; increases in employment for low-income single mothers, who comprise the population most likely to need assistance; and a sustained decline in child poverty.” However, he added, “We still have work to do.”

The bill would expand the CCDBG to require states to collect and disseminate information regarding the promotion of informed child care choice, research and best practices on children’s development, the availability of assistance to obtain child care services, and other programs for which families receiving child care assistance may be eligible.

States also must demonstrate that they are coordinating child care services with Head Start, Early Reading First, Even Start, pre-kindergarten programs, and other early childhood education programs. Additionally, 4 percent of CCDBG funding received by a state must be spent on activities to improve the quality of child care.

H.R. 4092 also would establish demonstration projects that would use innovative approaches to strengthen service systems and provide more coordinated and effective service delivery. Such demonstration projects would integrate multiple public assistance, workforce development, and other programs to provide better services for individuals and families who are leaving welfare. The bill would allow states to apply for waivers of some statutory and regulatory requirements in order to operate the demonstration program.

Prior to approving the bill, the subcommittee approved, 8-7, an amendment by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) that would terminate benefits for individuals who failed to work for two consecutive months. The subcommittee also approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment by Rep. McKeon aimed at clarifying which types of state demonstration programs could qualify for waivers.

Additionally, Democrats offered several amendments that were defeated by voice vote:

  • an amendment by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) that would have eliminated the waiver provision from the bill;
  • an amendment by Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) that would have eliminated the 40-hour work requirement;
  • an amendment by Rep. Mink that would have counted education and job skills training as work activities; and
  • an amendment by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) that would have rewarded states for lowering their welfare rolls and moving recipients into jobs.

 

Rep. Mink offered and withdrew an amendment that would have suspended the time limit a recipient could receive benefits if the recipient could not find adequate child care.

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