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Top Poverty Experts Highlight Importance of Work Requirements During Ways and Means Subcommittee Hearing

March 31, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Work and Welfare held a hearing to discuss the United States’ broken welfare system, specifically looking at the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and ways to provide more opportunities for individuals to experience the dignity of work and build a more prosperous future for their families. During the hearing, key witnesses testified about how strengthening work requirements and improving accountability can help lift Americans out of poverty.

Chairman Smith Highlights His Own Background and Commitment to Lifting Americans Out of Poverty

Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (MO-08): “I know the reality faced by working-class families in America because I’ve lived it. My grandparents never had running water. I grew up with my family living in a single-wide trailer in southern Missouri, until we upgraded to a double-wide. My father was a preacher and an auto-mechanic, and my mother went to work in a factory so my siblings and I could have health insurance.

“Families, like the one I grew up in and millions of others across America, do the best they can to stretch every dollar to make ends meet. Millions of families go through rough patches through no fault of their own and need help. And when done correctly, welfare can be the bridge to a better life for families who are struggling.


Work & Welfare Chairman LaHood Fact Checks Democrat Fearmongering Claims About Grandparents Facing Work Requirements

Contrary to repeated misleading talking points, Work and Welfare Subcommittee Chairman Darin LaHood (IL-16) reminded Democrats that grandparents have never been included in TANF work requirements and there is no proposal to add work requirements for grandparents.

Rep. LaHood: “Grandfamilies don’t have work requirements in TANF. They’re considered child-only. We aren’t proposing work requirements for grandparents.


America’s Broken Welfare System Lets States Game the System and Dodge Work Requirements

TANF’s work participation rate (WPR) requires that half of a state’s work-eligible individuals must be engaged in work, yet states are finding ways to skirt federal law, making it harder for Americans to escape poverty, according to witness Grant Collins, Senior Vice President for Workforce Development at the Fedcap Group. Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-03) asked Collins to explain some commonly used tactics by states to game the system, including caseload reduction credits and “small check” schemes:

Rep. Smith:Could you go into some details about some of the games that states might play to meet their work participation rate, and how exactly does the small check scheme work?

Mr. Collins: “So, assume you’re a state that had a rate to meet. The first problem is that because of the generosity of the caseload reduction credit, most states really have effectively zero rate to meet…

“But some did actually have a rate to meet; what they, what they were able to do is to at their discretion, removed from the TANF participation denominator, adults, likely to unmeet the rate by what we call solely state funding those cases… So there’s three different ways a state could use the solely state funded option.

“As far as the small check scheme, it’s almost in the reverse. A state would be able to find a TANF profile case, a parent and adult working already with a child, and then bring them on the caseload by providing a very small amount of TANF for $20 or $30 a month…”

Rep. Smith: “I think it’s safe to say that in any of those cases, individuals are not necessarily helped.”


Washington’s Arbitrary Rules Hamstring Caseworkers by Focusing on Participation, Not Outcomes

Washington’s laser focus on arbitrary metrics overshadows the real purpose of welfare – beneficiaries’ ability to once again provide for themselves and their families. In response to a question from Rep. Blake Moore (UT-01) about what Congress can do to reform welfare while maintaining accountability and personal responsibility, expert witnesses testified that the ultimate measure of success for welfare should be outcomes.

Rep. Moore: “Is there anything the federal government is doing right now that actually hinders your ability to meet those individuals where they’re at? Is there something we should be moving away from?

Ms. Frances: “The rate because it does not measure…what the customer is actually achieving. It’s just a number.

Ms. Reynolds: “What I would love to see…is families’ dignity restored because they’re living a life outside of poverty. It’s living wage income, no harmful debt, appropriate savings, and then ultimately, are off government assistance…


Rep. Carey Highlights Reforms Needed in the TANF program to Move Recipients Into the Workforce

Rep. Mike Carey (OH-15) touted the success of Ohio in breaking the cycle of poverty through a successful work-oriented job training and case management initiative for youth that integrates TANF with workforce development and questioned how Congress can reform TANF to mirror that success nationwide.

Mr. Maas: “They need to have the skills that our employers need in order to remain competitive. We need to have activities like GED completion and high-school equivalency. Because a lot of employers are requiring it to at least get your foot in the door. If our goal is to break the generational cycle of poverty, we need those tools to help individuals in the long-run.”


Welfare Programs Should be a Trampoline Out of Poverty, Not a Generational Poverty Trap

Reforms to TANF shouldn’t just focus on finding recipients a job, it should be flexible enough to allow case workers to tailor case management to help an individual to find, and keep, a job that can sustain and provide for their family. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-11) asked the witness what Washington can do to encourage work as the solution for generational poverty.

Rep. Smucker: “We want connection with a job, but we also want the caseworker to connect them with a job that’s family sustaining. It needs to be outcome based and not just incentivized on process. That idea of federal accountability vs. flexibility. What is the best balance?” 

Ms. Reynolds: “I think intensive connection case management that’s one part about meeting today’s needs and the other part goal planning about tomorrow and trampolining out of poverty has got to be the right balance. The way I would encourage the drive to accountability is to measure what matters. And measure what you’re saying. That good paying job… that is the best anti-poverty strategy there is. But allow for time to get there.”