Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs

Welfare Reform-Senate
September 4, 2002

Dear Senator:

We write on behalf of our religious organizations to urge you to support the Senate Finance Committee’s proposal for reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). We believe that the Finance Committee’s bill builds upon the successes of the current TANF program while making some essential improvements. We urge you to vote in September to reauthorize TANF for five years.

We encourage you to affirm the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, especially provisions that would:

  • maintain the current work requirement of 30 hours per week;
  • expand the list of acceptable education and training programs;
  • give states the option to count participation in vocational and post-secondary education as compliance with the work requirement. This provision by Sen. Snowe builds on Maine’s successful Parents as Scholars program. Graduates of that program leave TANF for employment, earn 50% more than other TANF leavers, and have stable jobs with benefits.
  • replace the current caseload reduction credit with an employment credit based on the number of families employed after leaving TANF. This provision by Sen. Lincoln gives states an incentive to help TANF recipients become employable and retain jobs;
  • continue Transitional Medicaid for five years;
  • give states the option to provide TANF and Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants, although we support full restoration of benefits;
  • allow states to provide supplemental housing benefits to low-income working families without triggering time-limit requirements and authorize a demonstration grant for housing with services for families with multiple barriers to work; and
  • permit states to exempt a small proportion of their caseload from work requirements in cases where caring for a disabled child makes it impossible for a parent to work.

We believe that these and other provisions of the Senate Finance Committee’s bill will help TANF recipients to care for the needs of their families while also moving toward family-supporting employment. At the same time, we are compelled to say that we find the funding level for child care in the bill inadequate and urge you to support increased funding in that area.

Currently, fewer than one-fourth of the children who are eligible for subsidies receive child care assistance through the Child Care Development Block Grant and all other government sources combined. Through our faith commitments, we serve those in need. Religious congregations provide a large proportion of all center-based care. We know that affordable quality child care is critically important to ensuring that the working poor can move into jobs to support their families.

Developmentally appropriate child care is an essential component of the effort to end the cycle of poverty, and it is crucial that families leaving TANF for work continue to have subsidized child care after they enter the work force. Our six years of experience with TANF has clearly shown the gaps and problems. We urge you to take this opportunity to improve upon what you began in 1996.

We have joined with other child advocates to support an increase in child care funding of $20 billion over five years because this figure would double the number of children assisted. To date, the highest figure proposed in any measure before the Senate is $11.25 billion. We urge you to support the highest possible level of funding for child care in order to help protect and educate the nation’s poorest children.

This country has needs that can best be met by a work force that is healthy, educated and motivated. The Finance Committee’s bill takes important steps toward building the future strength of the nation’s work force. We believe that the provisions listed above will greatly enhance the ability of low-income families to obtain the assistance and skills they need to acquire and retain jobs with family-sustaining wages. We urge you to support the Senate Finance Committee’s TANF Reauthorization Bill, with increased funding for child care.