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Chairman Smith Opening Statement: Hearing on TANF Non-Assistance Programs

July 12, 2023 — Opening Statements    — Press Releases    — Work and Welfare   

As prepared for delivery.

“Thank you Chairman LaHood and Ranking Member Davis for holding this hearing about how Congress can strengthen the non-direct assistance side of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, to lift more Americans out of poverty and protect the taxpayers who fund the program.

“I’d also like to give a special welcome to one of our witnesses today, Robert Knodell [nOh-del], Director of the Department of Social Services in my home state of Missouri. A native of Missouri’s 8th District, my home district, and a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Robert combines his love of Missouri with a career dedicated to service, focusing on improving education and social services. Robert, thank you so much for being here.

“In hearings all around the country, we have heard how small businesses are being impacted by the labor shortage. The Fiscal Responsibility Act delivered a major win for families and small businesses by strengthening work requirements in the TANF program. It also put an end to attempts by states to exploit loopholes around the work participation rate and forced them to measure outcomes that matter, like how many recipients get a job. This was a major step toward restoring the program to its core mission – acting as a bridge out of poverty.

“We have more work to do. Almost eight in every 10 dollars in this program are spent on something other than direct checks to families. TANF was meant to help people get a job, but we need basic financial guardrails to guarantee taxpayer money is not wasted. That lack of accountability has opened the door for states to treat TANF non-assistance funds like a slush fund.

“In some cases, states use the funds to fill budget gaps for unrelated purposes. In others, these funds pay for social programs that the federal government already pays for, but avoids federal rules on how states can use that money – creating even more duplication and overlap. In the worst cases, the lack of controls and accountability has led to outright fraud and abuse.

“For example, in Mississippi, $77 million in non-assistance TANF dollars was misspent through waste, fraud, and abuse. To put this in perspective, Mississippi receives $86 million in TANF annually and has the highest rate of child poverty in the country.

“Money that should have gone toward the vulnerable went instead toward building volleyball courts. Every Ways and Means Republican has asked Secretary Becerra if HHS has taken any action to correct the situation.

“On its current path, TANF non-assistance is failing beneficiaries who need economic security, and it’s also failing taxpayers whose money should be spent intentionally and strategically to support work.

“The basic problem at hand is the lack of accountability. More money tomorrow does not solve the problem of misspending money today. Thank you to each of our witnesses for testifying today about how to ensure TANF fulfills its mission of lifting people out of poverty through work.”