Washington, D.C. – House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE) delivered the following opening statement at a hearing entitled “Jobs and Opportunity: Legislative Options to Address the Jobs Gap.”
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Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, in April this committee did a deep dive into the jobs gap, which is the difference between what employers need to keep the economy growing and workers in the labor force. Building off our hearings last year, we held three separate hearings with witnesses representing local, employer and federal perspectives on a pressing challenge facing our country – our economy has finally turned around and there are millions of jobs openings across the country. From manufacturing to technology and even automotive, these industries have rebounded and are expanding.
“The problem is the workers aren’t there. Employers told us they need workers, and with some support it is possible – and in fact critical – people on the sidelines get back into the workforce.
“We heard it directly from Brian from Arizona, a young man caught up in the opioid crisis, and cycling in and out prison, who is now an electrician making $22/hour. Brian said his job and the support of his employer turned his life around, while his employer said Brian was part of filling his need for workers in the growing home construction industry. They are an example of remarkable win-win.
“We heard it from David Ard of Gap about their This Way Ahead program, who said engaging disconnected and at-risk youth and young adults with their first job can be life-changing and shape their prospects for the future, regardless of industry.
“But we don’t have time to wait. As Glen Johnson of BASF said in a previous hearing, ‘We can no longer hit the snooze button on the jobs gap.’
“Our committee has jurisdiction over a number of programs which serve people on the sidelines, but today we are focused on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which has the express purpose of supporting the truly needy and helping families become self-sufficient through work.
“Yet, when you take a good look at the TANF program now, there is a disconnect between the purpose on paper and reality on the ground. States are spending a combined $30 billion a year through TANF and less than half those dollars are being spent on core work activities and supportive services which could be going to bridge the jobs gap and help American families move forward.
“We have an opportunity to revitalize and retrofit the TANF program to today’s economy and the needs of American’s on the sidelines.
“With TANF set to expire in September, this committee must not stand down from its responsibility to reauthorize this program and help more Americans get back into the workforce.
“In our last hearing I was encouraged by the Ranking Member’s comments on the TANF program, which suggest there may be space for a meaningful bipartisan new course for the program. Mr. Davis you said, ‘TANF is supposed to help parents work but it is clear TANF is not doing quality workforce development with the array of services needed to get people past their barriers.’
“I hope we can work together on developing legislation to do this, so yesterday, I released draft legislation to jumpstart the conversation.
“This draft legislation seeks to help more Americans enter and remain in the workforce by doing four things: One, expecting universal engagement and case management. Two, measuring work outcomes to hold states accountable. Three, re-focusing TANF dollars on the truly needy, both in its allocation of funds to truly needy states and spending on truly needy families. And four, using funds to support work and allowing States greater flexibility in customizing work or work preparation activities to fit an individual’s needs for success.
“Overall it strengthens program accountability, transparency, and oversight of federal dollars.
“As lawmakers, we have an opportunity to make real change for the American people and the American economy. We must not continue the tradition of hitting the snooze button on TANF reauthorization or the American families who are trying to get ahead.
“We know TANF is not living up to the expectations set for it. We have the start of a proposal to fix it, and my hope is my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will not shy away from engaging.
“Helping struggling families and improving their outcomes is not a partisan issue. We know TANF can help address the jobs gap. Let’s do something about it.“