Lawmakers Propose Changes to TANF

Last Friday Women for Economic Justice hosted a briefing at the Capitol on proposed changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The briefing included Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI), a panel of women receiving TANF benefits, and a second panel of researchers.

Moore discussed the new legislation that she then introduced on Monday, called the Rewriting to Improve and Secure an Exit Out of Poverty Act (H.R. 3573). Original co-sponsors include Reps. Danny Davis (D-IL), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), John Conyers (D-MI), Benny Thompson (D-MS), Donna M. Christensen (D-VI), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), Pete Stark (D-CA), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), and Maxine Waters (D-CA). This legislation is intended to be a part of the TANF reauthorization discussion and if implemented would reform TANF by:

• Indexing the block grant for both inflation and child population growth in the state since 1996,
• Replacing the current contingency fund with one based on the Emergency Contingency Fund enacted in the Recovery Act which helped to create over 260,000 jobs,
• Lifting all time limits on work participation requirements and the 30% state cap on education,
• Adjusting the federal work participation requirements so that states could get credit when individuals with disabilities participate in work-related activities – even if the nature of those activities or the number of hours do not match the standard TANF requirements,
• Guarantee child care for TANF work-eligible recipients,
• Pass through all child support collected directly to the family,
• Eliminating full family sanctions and lifetime sanctions and establish a Pre- and Post-Sanction Review Process requiring states to continuously work with families that are subject to sanction or have already been sanctioned,
• Stopping the clock during a recession, and
• Stipulating that the number one goal of TANF is child poverty reduction.

The panel of TANF recipients included five mothers from California, Washington, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The mothers shared their stories of why they were receiving TANF and how TANF has helped them to find employment and attend college. Education was a recurring theme in their stories as a way to move out of poverty and create a better life for their children. All of the women discussed the need to have strong transitional care as they entered the workforce, as well as academic support while attending community college and four year institutions.

The research panel expanded on the need to provide increased support to TANF recipients showing that education can be an empowering experience and attainment of a bachelor’s degree helps many TANF recipients to move out of poverty. The panel highlighted the lack of supports for TANF recipients at post-secondary educational institutions, particularly the shrinking availability of child care.

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