House Ways and Means Committee advances TANF reauthorization bill

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House Ways and Means Committee advances TANF reauthorization bill. House TANF reauthorization bill could impact county administration of program.

On May 24, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee voted to advance H.R. 5861, the Joining Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act, a bill that would reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program through FY 2023 and enact changes to its structure. TANF is currently set to expire on September 30, 2018 and has traditionally been extended on an annual basis since the last reauthorization expired in 2010. The Ways and Means Committee approved the reauthorization on a party-line 22 to 14 vote.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), TANF is a federal entitlement program providing federal funding to states, tribes and territories for a wide range of benefits, services and activities to address both the effects and the root causes of poverty. While TANF is primarily a partnership between the federal government and states, ten states share TANF administration with county agencies covering. In these states, which collectively account for 51 percent of all TANF recipients, counties contribute significant local funds to administrative and supplemental costs of running the program.

The TANF reauthorization legislation builds on a draft proposal released by the Ways and Means majority earlier this month, which contained significant proposed alterations to the TANF program. One of the largest changes in the bill is the proposed elimination and replacement of the Work Participation Rate (WPR). The JOBS Act would replace WPR with new employment outcome measures drawn from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

In addition to eliminating WPR, the bill would expand the definition of work activities to include spending on vocational education and other activities proven to successfully help individuals gain and sustain employment and economic independence. The bill also proposes new eligibility restrictions, such as limiting TANF eligibility to families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

The bill would also increase certain allocations for child care, boosting funding 21 percent over the current fiscal year. In addition, the legislation would increase the cap on the amount of TANF funds states can transfer to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) from 30 percent to 50 percent.

However, while the bill increases the CCDBG transfer allowance, it also eliminates states’ authority to use TANF money directly for child care services by eliminating child care as a “core” activity under the program. Instead, the bill would require states to spend at least 25 percent of their TANF funds on other “core” activities, including direct cash assistance, case management and other supportive services.

Similar to the CCDBG transfer under the bill, states would also be granted the option to transfer up to 50 percent of their TANF funds directly to WIOA. However, the version passed by the committee would end the practice of transferring TANF funds to the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). Under current law, states may transfer up to 10 percent of TANF money to SSBG, a flexible program providing critical services to vulnerable populations including children, older adults and individuals with disabilities.

The bill does not include any new funding for TANF, keeping the program’s almost $17 billion annual funding flat for another five years. Adjusted for inflation, the block grant’s purchasing power has been reduced by over 30 percent since it was enacted in 1996, resulting in a decrease in the percentage of families in need the program has been able to serve.

The legislation passed by the committee included a few changes from the original draft proposal released earlier this spring, including removing proposed changes to the funding structure. NACo submitted comments expressing our concerns about the proposed funding changes and the unintended consequences it could have on local governments, and applaud the removal of these changes in the committee-approved bill.

While Democrats on the committee unanimously opposed the bill, discussions are expected to continue between House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and other members of the committee before the bill goes to the full House floor. Securing bipartisan support for the bill is especially important in the Senate, where 60 votes will be required for the legislation to pass and move to the president’s desk.

NACo supports a long-term reauthorization of the TANF program and encourages Congress to increase TANF funds annually at an amount commensurate with the rate of inflation to ensure the program’s effectiveness in assisting families in poverty. NACo also opposes the elimination of states ability to transfer TANF funds into SSBG, as this flexibility enables counties to use the program to meet their residents’ specific needs. NACo will continue to work with Congress to ensure any TANF reauthorization will support counties in assisting those most in need.

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