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Ways and Means Members Lead Charge to Fix America’s Broken Welfare System, Make Critical Reforms to Help Americans in Need and Protect Taxpayers

March 06, 2024

Chairman Smith: “These reforms put forward by Ways and Means Committee members hold states accountable for actually using TANF funds to help Americans in need transition from depending on a government check to thriving on a paycheck.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Members of the Ways and Means Committee have introduced seven new pieces of legislation to ensure critical welfare dollars best serve low-income Americans, encourage a drive toward gainful employment, and protect hard-earned tax dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse. The package of reforms reauthorizes the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for the first time since 2005, refocusing the program on its original mission: helping low-income families move from government dependence to realizing their full potential through work. 

This action by Ways and Means Committee members follows widespread news reports and Committee hearings and oversight exposing gross mismanagement and abuse in the TANF non-assistance program. The need for reform is exemplified by headlines in Mississippi where an audit found at least $77 million in misused funds from the state’s TANF program from 2017 to 2020, resulting in charges against multiple state officials. 

The Mississippi case is emblematic of a systemic problem. A lack of basic financial safeguards have unfortunately created an environment ripe for fraud that robs resources from families in poverty, with some states diverting non-assistance funds to fill budget gaps and to fund programs loosely related to TANF’s core goals. Reforms introduced by Committee Members would reauthorize TANF for two years and put in place guardrails to ensure dollars are intentionally focused on removing barriers to work, reducing dependency, and growing the capacity of struggling Americans to realize their full potential. 

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (MO-08) issued the following statement on the Committee’s welfare reform efforts:

“Work is the best, most effective way to help more individuals achieve a life of greater dignity and purpose that uses their talents and skills to provide for themselves and their families. Yet, shocking news reports and Committee oversight efforts have exposed that America’s welfare system – instead of helping more low-income Americans find and keep a job that supports their family – has allowed taxpayer dollars to be wasted on pet projects and absurd administrative costs. These reforms put forward by Ways and Means Committee members hold states accountable for actually using TANF funds to help Americans in need transition from depending on a government check to thriving on a paycheck. Hard-working taxpayers should be able to expect that their hard-earned tax dollars will be spent appropriately, not lost to waste, fraud, and abuse. Raising standards on states and forcing more transparency into the system is long overdue. 

“TANF has not been authorized in almost twenty years. Congress must reform and reauthorize this important program to better serve Americans in need and protect taxpayers. I look forward to working with my colleagues to achieve these much-needed reforms.”

Ways and Means Subcommittee on Work and Welfare Chairman Darin LaHood (IL-16) issued the following statement:

“The primary goal of the TANF program is to assist families in need with a hand-up, providing a safety net of government assistance to find work and pull themselves out of poverty. As the Work and Welfare Subcommittee has held hearings this Congress, we heard from individuals across the TANF ecosystem about the need to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the program to ensure it is a trampoline, not a generational poverty trap. Ways and Means Republicans are committed to helping individuals on the sidelines get back into the workforce. This critical package of TANF reforms will support those families that need it the most, strengthen program safeguards, reduce dependency, and help individuals realize their full potential.”

Bill Summaries
These seven bills offer common sense proposals to better target TANF funds to families in need, ensure funds connect people to work, and improve accountability and transparency in the welfare system by establishing basic financial safeguards. 

Targeting TANF to Families In Need

Target TANF to Families in Need Act (H.R. 7426)

  • Introduced by Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-03).
  • TANF currently has no federal limit on income eligibility to target funding. The law simply refers to serving “needy” families with no federal definition. 
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that many states have used TANF for families at 300 or 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or even higher. In at least 40 states, HHS identified programs with income limits of over 200 percent of poverty.
  • This bill would restrict TANF eligibility to those at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line to ensure funds are used to help the neediest Americans. 
  • The Biden Administration included a similar policy in an October 2023 proposed rulemaking stating, “Over the last 25 years, all states have maintained initial eligibility income limits for cash assistance below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines; however, we have observed that some states have used the flexibility to allow higher income families to be eligible for programs…going beyond the bounds of a reasonable definition of ‘needy.’”

Read the bill here

READ: Smith Reintroduces Legislation Directing Support to Families Most in Need

Helping Low-Income Americans Find and Keep a Job

Reduce Duplication and Improve Access to Work Act (H.R. 7446)

  • Introduced by Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-11) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (OH-02).
  • Currently, states may transfer up to 30 percent of their TANF grant to the Child Care and Development Fund and/or Social Services Block Grant. This policy was put in place to allow states to use TANF to fund supportive services to families without duplicating efforts in other federal programs. 
  • This bill would allow states additional flexibility to transfer TANF to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to support workforce activities that get more workers off the sidelines by connecting them with in-demand jobs. 
  • Through WIOA, states have established local “one-stop” American Job Centers across the country which act as a key part of the nation’s workforce development infrastructure. 

Read the bill here.

READ: Rep. Smucker, Wenstrup Introduce Reduce Duplication and Improve Access to Work Act

Restoring Temporary to TANF Act (H.R. 7441)

  • Introduced by Rep. Blake Moore (UT-01).
  • Many states are spending a record share of their non-cash assistance funds on activities that are only loosely tied to connecting those in poverty to a job.
  • In FY 2022, nationally on average only 13 percent of TANF funds were spent on work, education, training, and other work support activities. 
  • This bill directs more TANF dollars to support work and work preparation by establishing a 25 percent set-aside for core work activities to more quickly connect low-income individuals to meaningful employment.
  • Core work activities are defined to include education and training, work supports, apprenticeships, subsidized employment, non-recurrent short-term benefits, and case management related to development of individual responsibility plans with employment goals. 

Read the bill here.

READ: Congressman Moore Introduces Legislation to Enhance Work Supports for TANF Recipients

Reduce Bureaucracy to Uplift Families Act (H.R. 7449)

  • Introduced by Rep. Michelle Steel (CA-45).
  • Under current law, states are limited to spending no more than 15 percent of their TANF grant on administration, which is higher relative to other federal programs. 
  • For example, the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) block grants have a 10 percent administrative cap. 
  • In FY 2022, 15 states spent more than 10 percent of their federal TANF grant on program management. 
  • This bill reduces the existing administrative spending cap from 15 percent to 10 percent to free up more TANF to helping families find pathways into the workforce, rather than on bureaucracy and program management.

Read the bill here

READ: Steel Legislation Delivers More Funds to Those Who Need It Most

Protecting Taxpayer Dollars from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Protect TANF Resources for Families Act (H.R. 7554)

  • Introduced by Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-24).
  • Currently, nearly 80 percent of TANF spending is for non-assistance activities (i.e., spending that is not for cash assistance / welfare checks). 
  • TANF non-assistance dollars have few restrictions other than states must demonstrate spending meets one of TANF’s four core purposes. 
  • There is nothing in the law preventing states from using federal dollars to pay for activities the state would have otherwise funded.
  • This bill requires states to treat TANF funds as a supplement, not a substitute, for existing state welfare spending.
  • This would prevent states from using TANF to fill state budget gaps with federal funds, ensuring state and federal dollars can be better leveraged together to help more families in poverty find employment and economic independence. 

Read the bill here.

READ: Congresswoman Tenney Introduces the Protect TANF Resources for Families Act

Improve Transparency and Stability for Families and Children Act (H.R. 7410)

  • Introduced by Rep. Mike Carey (OH-15).
  • Currently, there is no deadline to spend TANF dollars and many states have built up large reserves.
  • In FY 2022, approximately $6.4 billion in TANF funds remained unobligated by states. 
  • This bill makes sure states aren’t sitting on unused TANF funds year-to-year by establishing a two-year period for obligating funds and an additional year to spend each fiscal year’s grant award. 
  • These spending periods are consistent with other federal grant programs and will ensure funds get to struggling families in a timely manner.

Read the bill here.

READ: Representative Carey Introduces Legislation to Expedite Help for Families and Children in Need

Eliminate Fraud and Improper Payments in TANF Act (H.R. 7431)

  • Introduced by Rep. Jodey Arrington (TX-19).
  • TANF is one of the few federal grant programs not currently reviewed for improper payments under the Program Integrity Information Act. 
  • This bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to measure improper payments in TANF, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office and requested by the Biden Administration in their FY 2024 budget request.
  • The bill also requires HHS to describe how the agency plans to eliminate  those improper payments and fraud. 

Read the bill here.

READ: Chairman Arrington Introduces Legislation to Eliminate Fraud and Improper Payments in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Committee Activity