Today the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing on “Improving Work and Other Welfare Reform Goals.” Chairman Geoff Davis (R-KY) was joined on the committee by his colleagues Rick Berg (R-ND), Tom Price (R-GA), Diane Black (R-TN), Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Joseph Crowley (D-NY). The witnesses for today’s hearing included Gary Alexander, the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Kay Brown of the US Government Accountability Office, Douglas Besharov from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, Scott Wetzler of the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, and LaDonna Pavetti from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Mr. Davis opened the hearing by acknowledging that while the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will expire at the end of the month, it is highly unlikely that Congress will pass any comprehensive reauthorization and instead would more than likely consider a series of short-term extensions. He suggested that the hearing would focus on the key problems that will not be addressed in an extension and that the subcommittee will consider the recommendations of the panel and others in that context as they chart a path towards fixing any unresolved issues in the coming year. He pointed to a number of concerns that he had regarding the high number of unemployed adults on welfare and the abuse of taxpayer funds. Mr. Doggett was next to speak and he also shared his concerns about the abuses taking place in the TANF program but mentioned that he was more concerned about protecting needy families and helping the unemployed find jobs. He also noted that he would like to see more active participation from the Obama Administration on this important issue.
The witnesses and the committee members shared a common understanding: that the current work requirements are insufficient and not conducive to getting individuals into good jobs that help decrease the dependence on TANF and other welfare programs. While all of the members and witnesses agreed that the TANF program should be reformed in a way that prepares and sustains individuals for employment, there was disagreement on how to move in that direction. Some panelists spoke to the need to redefine the actual work requirements and place less emphasis on individuals working a certain number of hours, and more on incentives to get individuals back to work. Mr. Crowley was the last of the members of Congress to speak to the witnesses and he pointed to the need for reform to address the direct correlation between child care subsidies and TANF families, suggesting that what is lacking for many of the families seeking to get back to work is adequate funding for child care.
CWLA will be submitting testimony for the record which will also be posted on our website.