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UPDATE: TANF Legislation
The faith community has reason to rejoice over some of the provisions in the PRIDE bill, but others are problematic and could lead to worsening conditions for some of the nation’s poorest people.  The greatest victory for TANF families comes in the form of a $6 billion increase in child care funding over a five year period.  While the faith community has supported an even higher figure, this is a considerable improvement over the $1 billion increase originally provided in the PRIDE bill.

The child care victory is not, however, guaranteed because the relevant House Committee opposes increased funding, as does the Bush Administration.  The House will likely not accept this provision without a fight.  In addition, Senate rules provide that the increase in child care funding has to be paid for by reducing funds in other programs under the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee.  The added child care will be funded by denying certain immigrant families the right to use the Earned Income Tax Credit, a provision that helps low-income households offset the cost of regressive payroll taxes on their wages.

The PRIDE bill increases mandatory work hours for TANF recipients, which was opposed by the faith community.  Mothers of children under age 6 will be required to work at least 24 hours a week instead of the current 20, while those with older children will have to work 34 hours instead of 30.  The bill being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee requires both groups to work 40 hours, as does the Bush Administration.

The work requirement rate for states will increase from the current 50% to 70% in 2010, meaning that adults in 70% of TANF families will be required to work or participate in authorized work-related activities such as school or job training.  The current provision was retained for counting up to 12 months of vocational education as compliance with work requirements.  Since most such programs take 24 months for completion, the faith community supports an increase to two years.  The House and the Bush Administration support dropping the figure to four months.

States get increased flexibility under PRIDE regarding activities intended to reduce severe barriers to employment such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and need for literacy training.  TANF recipients would be allowed to engage in remedial programs for more than the current six months, as long as they meet at least half of the requirement for participation in core work activities.  People with lesser barriers will be allowed to count participation in such programs as meeting the work requirement for three months out of 24.

Another victory for recipients comes in the form of the Parents as Scholars program sponsored by Sen. Snowe and modeled on a Maine program that allows a limited number of parents on TANF to attend post-secondary education and receive the same benefits they would get if they were engaged in work activities.

The PRIDE bill would divert funds from the payment of basic TANF benefits, at the rate of $100 million a year each, to healthy marriage promotion and research, demonstration and technical assistance related to marriage.  Another $50 million will go to programs to promote responsible fatherhood.

The Committee accepted a $1 billion increase in funding for the Social Services Block Grant, almost back to its original level of $2.8 billion.  This program provides various kinds of help to low-income families, including child care and services for people with handicaps.  The increase will be funded by unspecified “reforms” to the Earned Income Tax Credit that probably will result in decreased benefits under that program for working poor people.

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