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Davis Floor Statement H.R. 2943, the Short-Term TANF Extension Act

September 21, 2011

I rise today in support of H.R. 2943, legislation to temporarily extend the authorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and related programs.

Since it replaced the New Deal-era welfare program in 1996, TANF has been successful at cutting welfare dependence by 57 percent through the end of last year.

Even more importantly, by promoting work among single parents who are the most common welfare recipients, it helped significantly reduce child poverty in female-headed families over time.  Even at today’s elevated unemployed rates, TANF continues to promote more work and earnings and less poverty.

But despite this general progress, TANF can and should be strengthened to do more – especially to help more low-income families work and support themselves in the years ahead.

Unfortunately, too many parents are exempted from work requirements today, for a variety of reasons we learned in a recent hearing held by the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, which I am privileged to chair.  

But given the current Administration’s support for only a straight one-year extension of current law, which is a view shared by the other body, there are limited prospects for making needed changes to TANF before the program expires at the end of this month.  

That’s the reason for the short-term extension before us today.    

This 3-month extension will provide an opportunity for Congress, including the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, to review TANF alongside other entitlement programs this fall.  

Important questions need to be asked, including what is the proper funding level for these programs and how can they best be focused on engaging more low-income parents in work and other productive activities so more can support themselves in the long run.

Another thing this additional time will let us do is to take action to close what some call the “strip club loophole.”  This refers to an outright abuse of taxpayer trust permitted under current law, when adults on welfare spend taxpayer funds on liquor, gambling, tattoos, or even visits to strip clubs.

As recent exposés have revealed, too many welfare recipients access taxpayer funds at cash machines in casinos, liquor stores, strip clubs and even on cruise ships. Some States have already taken action to close this “loophole” by blocking access to welfare EBT cards at such establishments.  

There is bipartisan legislation to require all states to do that, and doing so is something of particular interest to our colleague Senator Coburn. I share his commitment to getting this done this fall, and urge all my colleagues to support action we will take to close this loophole.
The legislation before us is designed to provide time for a closer review of and action on these sorts of issues.  Importantly, it does not add to our deficits, since it simply continues current TANF funding for 3 months.  I note that TANF is a fixed block grant, which is not adjusted for inflation.  

I wish we were debating legislation today that extended and actually improved TANF programs so that they worked better.  But given the impediments before us, the bill before the House today offers us the best chance that we will be able to do that in the near future, and I urge all my colleagues to support it.