BACKGROUND: TANF Reauthorization

February 12, 2004

In 1996, the President and Congress agreed to a broad-sweeping reform of the nation's system to assist low-income families. "Welfare reform" ended entitlement of impoverished people to government assistance that had previously been guaranteed since the 1930's. All federal welfare programs were reorganized, streamlined or eliminated under the 1996 law, giving states broad flexibility to design their own welfare programs. Federal welfare entitlements were converted into state block grants. Two important state block grants are Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF pronounced tan-if) and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

In the robust economy since 1996, the reformed safety net—combined with the increased availability of jobs—has reduced the number of people on the welfare rolls throughout the nation by 58%. While this drop in enrollment represents some progress, concerns remain for those who have left the rolls and those who still require support. Many of those who have left public assistance have jobs that do not provide a family-sustaining wage and/or have lost essential supportive services, such as healthcare, and are left poorer than they were on welfare. Limited child care funding has increased the stress on families moving from welfare to work.

The authorization for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families expired September 30, 2002. Since then, TANF has operated at the 1997 funding level through a series of continuing resolutions approved by Congress. The current one expires March 31, 2004. If Congress fails to reauthorize TANF, another continuation will be needed. Last February the House approved its version of TANF reauthorization (H.R. 4), which reflected the President’s proposal. The Senate Finance Committee reported PRIDE in September, but the Senate took no action.

Child Care: PRIDE and H.R. 4 both provide an increase of $1 billion in mandatory child care funding over five years Mandatory funding for the last fiscal year was $2.7 billion. The Bush budget proposal would actually reduce the number of child care slots by 365,000 over the next few years.

The Episcopal Church strongly believes this increase is inadequate and advocates much higher child care funding because there is a critical shortage of safe and accessible child care for low-income families. Most studies of TANF’s effectiveness cite the lack of reliable child care as the greatest barrier to employment.

State Participation Rates: Current law requires that in each state 50% of all single parents (and 90% of two-parent families) on TANF meet work requirements. The House and Senate bills would both raise the 50% rate to 70% by 2008.

Work Requirement: Under TANF, parents of children under age 6 are required to work 20 hours per week, rising to 30 hours when children are over 6. Two-parent families must work 35 hours (or 55 if they receive federally subsidized child care). The House bill calls for 160 hours a month of work regardless of children’s ages or the number of adults in the family. PRIDE requires 24 hours weekly for single parents with preschool children, 34 for single parents with children over age 6 , and 39 for two-parent families (55 with child care subsidy).

The Episcopal Church opposes increased work requirements because there is already a shortage of child care under current law. Also, employers of TANF recipients may be unable or unwilling to pay for additional work hours, forcing recipients to work multiple jobs to comply.

Eligible Work Activities: Current law considers a TANF recipient as in compliance with the work requirement if she/he spends 20 hours a week at a paid job or in on-the-job training, a workfare position (unpaid supervised work experience), or community service. Participating in vocational training now counts as compliance (for 12 months), as does searching for work (for 6 weeks) and providing child care for other TANF recipients. For those required to work 30 hours, up to ten may be spent in education, job training, and high school or GED completion.

H.R. 4 raises the number of work hours to 24, does not count job search, and limits vocational education and training to three months. The remaining hours needed to meet the total of 160 monthly are left to the discretion of the states. The Senate bill counts work-readiness activities and paid work, as well as barrier removal and education and training for six months in 24. For those required to work over 24 hours a week, states may count high school and GED classes, job training, substance abuse counseling and treatment, and other programs designed to overcome barriers to work. The Senate bill would let up to 10% of a state’s caseload participate in post-secondary or vocational education for over 12 months. H.R. 4 has no such provision.

The Episcopal Church supports giving states broad latitude to let recipients participate in education and training programs as well as those that assist with removal of barriers to work for as long as needed to help participants gain employment at family-supporting wages.

Superwaivers: Current law does not include superwaivers, a concept put forward in the Administration’s TANF proposal. Under the House bill, states could waive federal requirements in the TANF, Food Stamp, public housing, homelessness, Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), Child Care Development Fund (CCDF), basic adult education, and Workforce Investment Act programs. The Senate bill would allow ten states to waive all federal laws and rules regarding only TANF, SSBG, and CCDF, in the interest of coordinating participation.

The Episcopal Church opposes superwaivers, contending that the program rules provide essential nondiscrimination protections for participants.

Immigrants: Current law denies benefits under TANF, Medicaid, and the State child Health Insurance Program to most legal immigrants for the first five years that they reside in the U.S. The House and Senate bills would continue this ban.

The Episcopal Church favors lifting the prohibition on the grounds that most of the immigrant families affected work in low-wage jobs, pay taxes, and meet the TANF requirements but need help to get established in their new country. Their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens, need health care and other social services to grow into healthy, productive members of society.

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