Hearing on Waiving Work Requirements in the TANF Program
Hearing on Waiving Work Requirements in the TANF Program
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
February 28, 2013
Printed for the use of the Committee on Ways and Means
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
SAM JOHNSON, Texas
|SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
LINDA SÁNCHEZ, California
JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
TODD YOUNG, Indiana
|LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
DANNY DAVIS, Illinois
Advisory of February 28, 2013 announcing the hearing
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Kay E. Brown
Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Executive Director, Secretary’s Innovation Group
Policy Coordinator and Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Law and Social Policy
Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
Hearing on Waiving Work Requirements in the TANF Program
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
[The advisory of the hearing follows:]
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:00 a.m., in Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Dave Reichert [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
Chairman Reichert. Good morning. We will call the sub committee to order. Today’s hearing is on the Obama administration’s July 2012 proposal to allow States to waive work and activity requirements for welfare recipients, often simply called welfare’s work requirements. These work requirements originated in 1996 in the Welfare Reform Law, which passed on a bipartisan basis after literally years of debate.
President Clinton campaigned in 1992 on a pledge to end welfare as we know it, and Republicans in Congress took that seriously. The landmark 1996 reforms expected Welfare recipients to work or get education and training. The law also capped funding while providing States new flexibility, and it included time limits on benefits so welfare was no longer a way of life. The years following reform witnessed some of the greatest progress against poverty and dependence in our Nation’s history. After reform, we saw sharp increases in work and earnings by single mothers. A 30‑percent drop in poverty among female‑headed families with children and record declines in Welfare dependence with the TANF roles remaining 57 percent below pre‑reform levels, even after the 2007 recession.
The idea that welfare recipients should work for benefits remains extraordinarily popular: 83 percent of Americans support requiring welfare recipients to work for their benefits. And that is why so many Americans were shocked last summer when the Obama administration suggested States could apply to waive these work requirements for the first time. Current law, Congressional intent, historical precedent, and expert reviews all confirmed HHS does not have the authority to do that. On November 1996, Ways and Means summary of the new reforms said it best: Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.
The reason why Congress said work requirements couldn’t be waived is simple: It wanted strong work requirements. And regardless of what the administration suggests, simple logic confirms, States don’t need waivers to strengthen work requirements; they only need them to weaken work requirements. The House acted in September to repeal the administration’s waiver policy. And, unfortunately, the Senate didn’t follow suit. Today’s hearing allows us to review this issue as we consider the next extension of TANF required before the end of March. I believe we should make clear that Congress meant what it said about welfare work requirements. What works is work and aggressively preparing for work. And the administration can’t unilaterally waive these critical features of our welfare reform. If anything, as we will hear from several witnesses, we should be exploring how to apply these work requirements to other programs so States help more welfare recipients work or prepare for work. That is the best and the only real path out of poverty.
Without objection, each member will have the opportunity to submit a written statement and have it included in the record at this point.
Mr. Doggett, I would recognize you for 5 minutes for your opening statement.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I believe in the value of work. I voted for the 1996 welfare law because I supported moving people from welfare to work. I don’t believe, though there have been some spotty successes, that that law has begun to fulfill its promise.
And I think that the responsibility for those failures is shared by many: States who did not do their part; an administration that has not come forward with its own plan; and Republicans here in Congress who have continued to build on old, flawed stereotypes. As this TANF reauthorization has been considered, we have moved on a stop‑start basis with a number of temporary extensions, instead of dealing with the root causes of why we don’t have more people moving into the workforce. We have done ‑‑ we have dealt with such tangential issues as whether people were cashing their checks at a strip club, a liquor store, or a casino; not one of the core issues. I certainly didn’t object to restricting checks from being cashed there. But it hardly addressed the core concerns of how we provide temporary assistance to those who are poor and how we use those resources to get them into jobs.
Now, with yet another start‑stop, we face a deadline at the end of this month without any real and basic reforms. The only focus has been on attempting to limit the administration in giving States added flexibility. In my opinion, in some areas, they have too much flexibility already and have basically used TANF as a slush fund to fund some of the social services that they should have been providing themselves and were, in some cases, providing themselves to assist those who were poor to move into the workforce and to develop better skills. And whether they needed additional flexibility, there is a good argument that they should ‑‑ but what we really should be doing is a broad reauthorization of this program, looking at whether it fulfills its original purpose and whether we can make it work better for the taxpayer and for those that it is designed to provide temporary assistance to.
This temporary assistance program ‑‑ misnamed, I believe ‑‑ is increasingly irrelevant for most Americans that are struggling in poverty. In response to the worst recession in our lifetimes, enrollment in TANF grew little across the country. In 2010, 2011, only about one in five poor children received assistance through this program. That is the lowest level of poor children receiving cash assistance since 1964. In my home State of Texas, the picture is much more bleak, as it usually is, with roughly 1 out of every 20 children receiving any cash assistance from TANF.
I think all of us want to see fewer people receive assistance because they found a good job. But there is no indication that these folks that are not receiving assistance found a good job, and no one should consider it a success when fewer and fewer very poor children and families have access to a program designed to serve them.
Instead of focusing on whether a waiver authority is being misused or whether people are misusing their check at a liquor store, it seems to me the fundamental concern ought to be on how we do more to lift people out of poverty and have them contribute productively to our society. Part of this strategy should include the President’s call for an increase in the minimum wage. Right now, a family of four with one full‑time earner working for minimum wage is living in poverty, even after counting refundable tax credits. Increasing the minimum wage would give a pay raise to 15 million low‑income workers, and it would increase the value of work for some of those leaving welfare. Increasing educational opportunities, including for our youngest children, is another strategy. And, of course, defending against those who have criticized it so regularly, the earned income tax credit is another proven way of helping to lift people out of poverty. And it is doing more to lift people out of poverty than the TANF program is.
We also need to consider what changes should be made in TANF. I wish that had been the focus of this hearing and the focus of more attention from the administration. We will hear from one witness later today outlining what some of those changes might be that could strengthen the program and make it fulfill its original purpose. Certainly that purpose will not be fulfilled if we see even more cuts with sequester beginning tomorrow, another area which we need to address the attention of the Congress.
I look forward to hearing the witnesses.
Chairman Reichert. Gentleman’s time has expired.
I want to remind our witnesses to limit their oral statements to 5 minutes. However, without objection, all of the written testimony will be made a part of the permanent record.
On our first panel this morning, we will be hearing from Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who all of us know and all of us know has worked hard to lift people out of poverty. Senator Hatch is the ranking member the Senate Finance Committee and has been very active with Chairman Camp on the issue of TANF waivers since the administration announced its policy last July. As his written testimony notes, he has helped draft every major piece of legislation relating to welfare in the past two decades, including the 1996 Welfare Reform Law, whose work requirements are the focus of our discussion today. And during that time, he has worked on numerous bipartisan and even tripartisan welfare bills. We are honored to have the benefit of Senator Hatch’s deep experience and expertise on this issue and greatly appreciate his willingness to testify.
And as all of us recognize the busy schedules among Members and staff on the Hill, unfortunately Senator Hatch has to leave shortly after his testimony. So if there are any questions, they can be submitted to the senator in writing.
Senator Hatch, good morning. Thank you for being here.
STATEMENT OF THE HON. ORRIN HATCH, A UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF UTAH
Senator Hatch. Thank you.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Doggett, members of the very important Subcommittee on Human Resources.
I want to thank you for convening this hearing and for asking me to address all of you this morning on the Obama Administration’s proposal to waive Federal welfare requirements.
First of all, I want to congratulate you, Chairman Reichert on your new role as subcommittee chairman. I have been very pleased to work closely with Chairman Camp on this important issue, and I look forward to continuing that partnership with you and with our friends on the other side.
Your long and impressive history in law enforcement has brought you in direct contact with some of the vulnerable populations that programs under your subcommittee’s jurisdiction are designed to help.
Your experience with these families will serve you well in your capacity as the new chairman. While I commend the subcommittee for holding this hearing, I regret that it is necessary to have such hearing in the first place. Authority for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, as we call it, and related programs expired at the end of fiscal year 2010.
In the years leading up to and following the expiration of TANF, the Obama Administration never proposed a 5‑year reauthorization of these programs. In the 4 years since President Obama has been in office, not once did a member of his administration offer to meet with me to discuss the TANF reauthorization.
Indeed, for years, the Obama Administration showed no interest in making improvements to these programs.
That being the case, I was stunned on July 12, 2012, when, with no advanced warning, the administration released so‑called guidance to States, informing them that the administration had granted itself the authority to essentially, in my opinion, gut welfare reform by undermining important Welfare‑to‑Work requirements.
Mr. Chairman, over the past 20 years, I have helped draft every major piece of Senate legislation relating to Welfare. I was a member of the Senate Finance Committee during the 1996 debate and helped managed the Senate floor during the Senate consideration of welfare reform. In 2002, I worked with Senators Breaux, Snowe, Rockefeller, and Jeffords to put forth a series of recommendations known as the Tripartisan Agreement. The Tripartisan Agreement formed the basis of the TANF reauthorization legislation considered by the Senate Finance Committee.
I also worked closely with then Chairman Grassley to develop the bipartisan PRIDE bill. So not only do I have a long history of developing welfare policies on a bipartisan basis, I have also been intimately involved in all the major deliberations on welfare policy.
That being the case, I can say with confidence that at no time in the nearly 20 years of discussions did Members of Congress ever contemplate granting the executive branch the authority to waive Federal Welfare‑to‑Work requirements.
Now, the Obama Administration has stated that they need to be able to waive the work requirements in order to, quote, “explore new ways to strengthen work requirements,” unquote. The Obama Administration has not elaborated on what is contemplated by to the word “strengthen.”
However, we do know that these unknown new ways to strengthen work requirements do not mean limiting what counts as work to actual work or job searches. These new ways to strengthen work requirements do not mean actually requiring more people to work. That is because under current law, there are no restrictions on a State’s ability to increase or strengthen the work requirements. A State does not need a waiver to limit the number of activities it considers work. A State does not need a waiver to increase the required hours of work for welfare recipients. A State does not need a waiver to increase the number of able‑bodied adults who are working in exchange for their welfare check.
So if strengthening the work requirements does not mean limiting what counts as work and it does not mean increasing the number of people engaged in work for longer hours, then what does it mean?
For guidance in answering that question, we should consider what types of policy changes a State would need a waiver for if the administration had the authority to provide such waivers in the first place. A State would need a waiver to increase the number of activities that could count as work, like, for example, adding education and substance abuse treatment to the list.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, there are already 12 different definitions of work described in the TANF law, and some States have demonstrated considerable creativity under the flexibility that currently exists to count things like bedrest and personal journaling as work.
In addition, a State would need a waiver to count toward the participation rate, a person performing less than the required number of hours of work per week. And a State would need a waiver to meet a performance measure other than the current requirement that the State engage in at least 50 percent of able‑bodied adults on welfare work and related activities. In short, the approach envisioned by the Obama Administration would mean less work for fewer hours and for a smaller shares of adults on Welfare.
This approach is contrary to a work‑first approach that has been an integral feature of welfare reform. Over the years, research has consistently demonstrated that a work‑first approach, combining an intense effort to engage clients in work‑related activities to foster an attachment to the workforce, with a blended menu of work supports, such as education, and training, has the greatest degree of success in getting clients off of welfare.
The reason I am so vehemently opposed to the administration’s scheme to undermine the Welfare‑to‑Work requirements is I believe it will hinder not help adults from exiting the welfare rolls. Put simply, allowing activities that are not work to count as work will not get people into work.
Mr. Chairman, last year, I sent President Obama a letter asking him to withdraw his waiver rule and submit a TANF reauthorization to Congress. I pledged to the President I would work in good faith with him to craft bipartisan welfare legislation that can help fragile families progress toward greater self‑sufficiency.
To date, I have not received a response to my letter. The President has not withdrawn his welfare waiver rule, nor has he submitted a TANF reauthorization to Congress.
Therefore, in my opinion, Congress must act. Congress must stop this executive overreach and prevent this administration from undermining key provisions of welfare reform. I am hopeful that this hearing today will be the first step in a process that leads the House of Representatives to pass legislation to invalidate the administration’s welfare waiver rule. And I hope that the Senate will act in a similar fashion.
I am counting on you. I am counting on a bipartisan effort to really keep this work requirement as a substantial and effective work requirement. And I will do whatever I can to make sure that that occurs.
And I just want to the thank you for holding this hearing. I respect each and every one of you. And I know these are tough issues. But I feel really deeply about this. And one reason TANF worked so well is because of the work requirement, and a lot have people found that going to work was a good thing. And what we need to do is find better ways of opening up the doors so they can work and get jobs that they need. Thank you so much. It has been a privilege to be with you.
[The statement of Senator Hatch follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Senator, for your testimony.
Thank you for helping us understand this issue a little bit better. We can tell that you are passionate about this and are willing to help us in any way you can. Your presence here today is absolutely a sign of that and your testimony, too, and your comments after. So we look forward to working with you. Thank you so much for being with us today.
I will repeat to the members of the panel here that if you have any questions for the Senator, you have the opportunity to submit those in writing.
Thank you again, Senator.
Senator Hatch. Thank you, sir.
Good to see all of you again. Thank you for your kindness.
Chairman Reichert. Now will the next panel please take their seats. And we will begin the second panel of witnesses.
Thank you for being here this morning. Our second panel this morning, we will be hearing from Kay E. Brown, who is the director of education, workforce, and income security, U.S. Government Accountability Office; Jason Turner, executive director, Secretary’s Innovation Group; Elizabeth Lower‑Basch, policy coordinator and senior policy analyst, Center for Law and Social Policy; and Douglas Besharov, professor, of School of Public Policy, University of Maryland.
Ms. Brown, you can proceed with your testimony, please.
You have 5 minutes. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF KAY E. BROWN, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION, WORKFORCE, AND INCOME SECURITY, U.S. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE
Ms. Brown. Chairman Reichert, Ranking Member Doggett, and members of the subcommittee.
Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss waivers of work provisions in the TANF program. I will talk about whether States express interest in these waivers and whether HHS granted any. My remarks are based primarily on a report we issued last September.
As you know, one of TANF’s key goals is to promote job preparation and work to help end independence on government benefits. In fact, States are expected to ensure that a certain percentage of work‑eligible families participate in work activities for a minimum numbers of hours each work, and these requirements are specified in law.
Before TANF, under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, 46 States received approval from HHS to implement about 113 waivers between 1987 and 1996. These waivers were granted under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act and allow States to conduct pilot or demonstration projects to test the effect of changes to the existing program.
Some of the waivers tested policies that became key features of the TANF program, such as stronger work requirements and, for the first time, time limits. When TANF replaced AFDC, States with ongoing waivers were permitted to continue to operate their programs under these waivers until they expired. The last one expired in 2007, and no provision in law allowed these AFDC waivers to be extended.
Further, since TANF was created, HHS has not granted any waivers related to the program, although several States have expressed interest. Specifically, from 2000 through 2009, we found that five states asked HHS about the availability of waivers under TANF. For example, two States requested waivers because they thought that unanticipated circumstances, such as the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks, might result in their noncompliance with certain Federal TANF requirements. In these cases, States generally were not asking for waivers to test new approaches through pilot or demonstration projects, which would be necessary in order to get a waiver under Section 1115, and instead, they were asking to be excused from specific requirements. HHS officials responded each time that they did not have authority to provide waivers and offered to work with the States to address their concerns through other flexibilities allowed under the law.
Then, in 2001, in response to a presidential memorandum, HHS asked the States for ideas of how increased administrative flexibility could lead to improved TANF outcomes. HHS documents show that five States indicated their interest in waivers that were specifically related to TANF work requirements. In their response, HHS officials indicated that the department was in the process of reviewing its TANF waiver authority at that time. In July 2012, HHS issued the information memorandum indicating the Secretary’s willingness to exercise Section 1150 waiver authority related to TANF work requirements.
I should clarify that we have not done an analysis of HHS’ legal authority to grant these waivers. As of September 12th of last year, HHS documents showed that eight States had expressed interest in pursuing these waivers. We recently learned that two additional States have expressed interest. However, no State has formally submitted to HHS a request for a waiver. In conclusion, in contrast to the AFDC period before TANF, there have been no new waivers granted under TANF. And until last year, we found no formal documentation that HHS believed it had authority to waive the work requirements.
This concludes my prepared statement. I am happy to answer any questions.
[The statement of Ms. Brown follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Ms. Brown.
Mr. Turner, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF JASON TURNER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SECRETARY’S INNOVATION GROUP
Mr. Turner. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Jason Turner. Formerly Mayor Giuliani’s Commissioner for Welfare Medicaid, and WIA during his second term. Now I serve as the executive director of the Secretary’s Innovation Group, a network composed of 18 States’ human service secretaries, representing more than half the population. Our members hailed from Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, and six other States. We exchange State‑innovative program ideas and support national policies which favor work and economic self‑reliance, helping families budget discipline and orientation toward limited government.
I would like to take this opportunity to describe the circumstances in the period leading up to the passage of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family program and how it relates to the current discussion over work requirements in the law. During the 1980s, there was an increasing public concern over the growth of the TANF predecessor program, AFDC, which you are well familiar with. To address this concern, HHS sponsored a large‑scale experiment in which some families received fairly generous, unrestricted cash benefits via a negative income tax and a control group did not, in order to see what the positive and negative effects were. This experiment showed that those receiving the unrestricted welfare benefits worked significantly fewer hours and experienced higher levels of family dissolution than those in the control group. In other words, free money without obligations resulted bad social consequences, something our grandmothers may have remarked did not require an experiment to predict.
Partly as a result of this large‑scale experiment, the Congress passed the Family Support Act in 1988, an education and training program intended to move recipients to work. And based on the premise that welfare adults would qualify for jobs and accept them if they were provided additional education and training to improve their skill levels.
Regrettably, experience showed that this new provision of education and training did not have this effect. In fact, the opposite occurred, from what we had hoped. In the first 5 years after the program was activated, rather than declining, the caseload increased by one‑third to its highest levels ever.
Faced with these disappointing results, HHS conducted a multi‑State, multi‑year comparison of the effectiveness of the education and training model embedded in its then Family Support Act Program against a work‑first intervention, otherwise known as a labor attachment model. Under the work‑first approach, welfare recipients are encouraged to get into the labor force as soon as they can find a job and improve their employment and wage circumstances from that point forward, by contrast to the skills model, where they remain outside the labor force while they undergo remedial education and training.
The results unequivocally favored the work‑first labor attachment model. The research concluded, employment‑focused programs generally had larger effects on employment, earnings and welfare receipt than education‑focused programs. And given the large number of programs examined in research and their variety of served populations, of implementation procedures and of different labor markets, these results provide more support for the advantages of employment‑focused programs than education‑focused ones.
With all of these considerations in mind, the Congress spent a great deal of time evaluating alternatives as it crafted its 1996 legislation. The resulting program allocated funds to States with a substantial operating flexibility but with the understanding that States must place an increasing number of adult recipients into employment or work‑related activities.
Why didn’t Congress just allocate funds via an unrestricted block grant? I can answer this from my perch at the time in the early 1990s as the HHS director of the AFDC welfare program and subsequently as a State welfare director in Wisconsin while all of this was happening. In general, States find it easy to run voluntary programs of remedial education and training, where slots are already available via community colleges or WIA and recipients could take advantage or these or not, as they wish. From a State’s point of view, it is bureaucratically hard to run a mandatory program based on work activities. This is because a mandatory work program requires more supervision, more creation of qualifying activities, more attendance tracking, and more follow up to assure progress is being made. But we know from experience the harder approach is necessary.
Our member States in Secretary’s Innovation Group are not calling for the weakening of TANF work requirements, but the opposite. Our TANF policy brief lays out just such a policy agenda.
Finally, as a former Federal executive branch official and former State welfare director, I tend naturally to favor executive branch authority and flexibility. But I also know that this impulse can be taken too far and lead some States to take the easy way out, when we know from robust experimentation and the results of the TANF program, that an ambitious work‑first program will lead to increased employment and increased dependency. We think policies should be carefully considered by the Congress, not abandoned by executive fiat.
[The statement of Mr. Turner follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Turner.
STATEMENT OF ELIZABETH LOWER‑BASCH, POLICY COORDINATOR AND SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, CENTER FOR LAW AND SOCIAL POLICY
Ms. Lower‑Basch. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to share CLASP’s views regard the work rates that States must meet under the TANF program. CLASP develops and advocates for policies at the Federal, State, and local levels, and improves the lives of low‑income people.
In calling this hearing, Mr. Chairman, you said that Welfare should empower able‑bodied recipients for the tools to secure a job, lift oneself out of poverty, and provide for one’s family. I agree. Stable employment in a well‑paying job is the best pathway out of poverty and into the middle class. Employment is one of the key ways that people contribute to society.
Where we may disagree, however, is whether the work participation rate under TANF is an effective way of promoting this goal. I do not believe that it is. The work participation rate only measures attendance. It does not make any attempt to measure the effectiveness of State’s employment programs, whether these programs actually get people jobs. It forces States and caseworkers to focus on documentation rather than helping clients and unnecessarily limits range of activities that can be counted.
In an economy where family‑supporting jobs are increasingly limited to those with at least a post‑secondary credential, those without at least a high school diploma find it harder and harder to find any employment. Low‑income parents need access to training that will allow them to escape the cycle of low wages, unstable work, and poverty.
Many States have particularly highlighted as a problem the limits on counting basic education and GED classes toward the work rates. States have learned much about work‑focused education in the decades since such programs were last evaluated, and we are also in a very different economic context.
While the labor force participation of low‑income mothers did increase dramatically during the early 1990s, this was not primarily due to the TANF work participation rate. Rather, I would credit the combination of the strong economy, the messaging effect of welfare reform, and the package of improvements that made work pay for low‑income mothers. These included a rising minimum wage, an expansion of the earned income tax credit, child care subsidies, and public health insurance.
States would almost certainly continue to enforce a work expectation even in the absence of Federal requirements. Moreover, the vast majority of low‑income parents themselves value work and want to support themselves and their families. They do not need more work requirements but rather work opportunities and employment support.
Looking to TANF reauthorization, we should start tracking at the State level performance on a wide range of outcome measuring, including employment, poverty, deep poverty, and other measures of material hardship. TANF should not be considered a success while millions of children are being left in deep poverty.
States that are willing to be held accountable for the outcomes they achieve in their programs, such as employment entry, job retention, or poverty reduction, should be given the ability to opt out of the process‑focused participation rate, either for the entire TANF population or for groups participating in specific programs, such as career pathways initiatives, in exchange for rigorous evaluation of these efforts. Whether such a flexibility is provided through waivers or through a new State option allowed under reauthorization, such experiments would help identify the most effective service models in the current environment. These pilots would also help to identify possibilities and pitfalls, moving more broadly from process measures to outcome‑based performance measures.
In my written testimony, I do discuss some modest changes to the work participation rate that can significantly reduce the negative effect as it is currently designed. Foremost among these is the replacement of the caseload deduction credit with employment credit. I also discuss funding and the value of creating a permanent source of support for subsidized employment programs. These received bipartisan support at the State level when they were funded with the TANF emergency fund. I really think we should build on that experience.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide CLASP’s perspective. I know welfare has often been a subject of deep disagreements. But I do believe it is possible to find common ground in improving the effectiveness of TANF in promoting work opportunity for low‑income parents.
[The statement of Ms. Lower‑Basch follows:]
Chairman Reichert. Thank you for your testimony.
STATEMENT OF DOUGLAS BESHAROV, PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
Mr. Besharov. Chairman Reichert, Ranking Member Doggett, other members of the Subcommittee, good to see you again.
What a time we are in. I appreciated the comments of the other panelists and Senator Hatch. My view is that this waiver ‑‑ and I don’t know anything about its legal basis, I know it wasn’t intended when the bill was written by anyone on either side ‑‑ my sense is that this waiver both goes too far and doesn’t go far enough. And let me explain what I mean by that.
It goes too far because there was one lesson we learned very clearly through the lead‑up to welfare reform, and this is something that Jason Turner and Senator Hatch talked about: The evidence was really clear. The best way, as the Europeans say, to activate welfare recipients, was to do work first, meaning to encourage them to look for a job, and help them look for a job. And job training had to be second or third at best.
I think that is right. I think the evidence from Europe, which I will talk about in a minute, is similar. But it is reinforced by the evidence in this country.
Next week, the House will take up WIA, the Workforce Investment Act. The sad truth is the evaluations of that program show that it is hardly effective for the low‑income families it is meant to serve. So that is why I say this waiver goes too far. It seems to abandon work first, and it seems to put too much reliance on a failed policy, which is our current job training program.
But it also doesn’t go far enough. And what I mean by that is we use the phrase, both sides use the phrase, flexibility, coordination, trying new things. But the new thing, the big thing, the needed waiver, the needed coordination is between TANF, which has now become something like a block grant, and a small one at that, and SNAP, UI, and the Disability program. SNAP, UI, and Disability now far, far outweigh what we spend on TANF. They provide an alternate route for government support. And each one of them separately has a minimum of welfare‑to‑work, work experience, job‑first provisions.
A true waiver for flexibility would do something about all those programs. Now, I think I am here partly because, at the University of Maryland, I study programs in socialist Europe. And that includes now France and Italy, as well as Germany, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. And they are all moving to the kind of combined work‑first program that I am talking about.
If you look for a moment, I think you have a full‑size picture of figure 1. And this is part of the conversation we are having about the broader U.S. economy. And I don’t for a moment want to say that it is only welfare or only Disability that causes what is a striking decline in the labor force participation ‑‑ excuse me, in the employment rate of America.
But if you look at this, the United States is in red, and you see a sharp decline at the time of the recession. While the Germans were increasing, the Dutch have held constant; the French are doing things to try to improve their labor force participation. What are most of these countries in Europe, whether led by conservative or socialist countries, doing? They are combining their recipient programs, the equivalent of Disability, the equivalent of SNAP, the equivalent of unemployment insurance, into one program. They are housing those programs in the same office.
When someone applies for any one of those programs, those people are treated the same. The agency looks to see what the barriers are to employment and through a combination of work‑first and other assists tries to help those people go to work.
That is why I say this waiver both goes too far and not nearly far enough. It goes too far because I think it undermines the original finding that led the Congress to pass TANF, which is that work‑first works.
And, secondly, it doesn’t go nearly far enough because this administration, although it has said it supports broad waivers across programs, didn’t use this opportunity to allow the States to combine their SNAP programs and their UI programs. And SNAP, at least I know there is legislative authority, they could have done.
Thank you very much.
[The statement of Mr. Besharov follows:]
Thank you all for your testimony. We will now move into the question phase. I will ask Mr. Turner a question. But I noted a few comments by the panel that sort of struck a personal note with me. Mr. Turner’s comment about free money without obligations results in bad social consequences; Ms. Lower‑Basch, what activities are actually effective in helping people get jobs; and then Mr. Besharov, help people look for a job and the training could be second or third in the process.
And it just sort of reminded me of my childhood. I am the oldest of seven children. And my father had trouble at a few times in his life finding work, especially when we moved from Minnesota to Washington State in the 1950s. We were on ‑‑ I think they just called it State assistance back in those days or public assistance, or something like that and stood in a food bank line, which wasn’t really a food bank back then; it was a place that you went to, one place in Seattle, where they gave you bags of, you know, paper bags of bulgur wheat and flour; the staples. And I remember my father really struggling with being on public assistance. His self‑esteem was erased. There was no pride there. There was domestic violence happening at home, it created a lot of stress.
I don’t know what happened. But eventually what he did is he turned to an activity, and the activity was he would walk ‑‑ I know, you hear these stories all the time, “I walked 4 miles to school in the deep snow.” So this is the story my father and my mother told me, that he walked to work, to a place where he thought he might get a job, and sat on the curb with his lunchbox for two to three weeks and asked the a guard at the guard shack, “Do you know if there are any openings?” The activity was him walking to the place where he wanted to go to work, sat down on the curb with his lunch bucket, and waited. Eventually, somebody came out and said, “We know you are out here wanting to work. We will hire you.” And he got a job.
And so was that an activity that let to employment? It is hard to define, isn’t it?
I think that the training then, of course, came second. He got the job and went in and became a steelworker, where they built railroad cars back then. Now it is Kenworth Trucking in Seattle.
But I am sure a lot of people in this room and on this panel can identify with those things throughout their lives or family members. So we really want to try and fix this. We want to make sure that we get people back to work. And that is the challenge here.
Mr. Turner, today we have been discussing work requirements in the TANF program. Your testimony has provided a good summary of how Congress arrived at the current structure of work requirements in the TANF program. But TANF is only one program among many that are intended to help low‑income families. Do other similar programs that provide help to low‑income families have anything comparable to the TANF work requirements? If not, should these programs have activity requirements more like those in TANF?
I think, Mr. Besharov, you sort of touched on that a little bit.
Mr. Turner, comment, and then maybe Mr. Besharov could speak to it.
Mr. Turner. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I will leave it to Mr. Besharov to comment on the specific programs.
But let me just say in response to that is that work activation or work activity, even where private employment is not available immediately, has tremendous benefits to anybody in any circumstance receiving assistance. The benefits to staying active, such as you described in your family history, are immense. We know, for instance, that those who are engaged in a work activity may benefit by keeping active, by keeping social with other people, by making connections with prospective employers or other people that can help them find employment. We know that they stay healthier. We know that if you are not active, you intend to become isolated, and you stay at home. We know that your health declines. Depression increases. Isolation sets in. Substance abuse goes up. So the longer you are inactive, after having been employed, the more your prospects decline over time.
And so one of the things that work activation does, if you think of this as being a whole population of the low‑income people that are being served on welfare, a subset of that can be employed in the economy. And like an accordion, it goes up and down. The private economy takes more people and then takes less people. But you want to keep the entire population activated and doing something so that they are on the bench, ready to get off and go back into the football game.
So, in a sense, work activation is a program idea for all seasons, whether it is ‑‑ whether the economy is strong or weak.
Mr. Besharov. Thank you.
Let me take SNAP, food stamps, as an example. It is a very large program now. Tomorrow, I am going to be speaking at a panel at the USDA on this question of how to activate food stamp recipients. An issue is that many of them, about 30 percent of all SNAP households, have earnings. But there is a substantial number of people who receive food stamps who aren’t working. And the question, the challenge for the Congress is to make a distinction between those groups and find a way for the nonworking recipients to be activated, to use the European term.
And I really want to emphasize that even at this time of high unemployment, work first, job search works. The Europeans have done studies because they have higher unemployment rates than we do. And the reason I asked an economist about this, what is the fancy word, because I am going to testify. And it is variance from the mean. That is a fancy way of saying that while some counties today have unemployment rates of 25 percent, other counties, other localities have unemployment rates of 5 percent. Some places have no jobs for aerospace engineers but loads of jobs, entry‑level jobs. So we can’t even use the unemployment rate as a reason for not encouraging work first. We just have to apply it in a reasonable and confident way.
I think that the TANF rules, as they were, tended to do that. We saw very few examples of people saying TANF has been unfair or the State agencies have been unfair during the recession. And I think that speaks well of the system that the Congress adopted now almost 20 years ago.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you for your response.
Mr. Doggett, you are recognized for questioning.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you very much.
Ms. Lower‑Basch, let me ask you a very hypothetical question. Let’s suppose that we lived in a world in which a significant number of Members of Congress did not feel there was political advantage in building on old stereotypes of welfare Cadillacs, of members of our society devoting their days to using taxpayer money at liquor stores and strip clubs, of numbers of Americans who desired to just live on the dole instead of to work, and that instead of building on those stereotypes there was a genuine, broadbased, bipartisan interest in Congress to lift people out of poverty. And let’s suppose we lived in a hypothetical world where an administration was not afraid of being stereotyped itself and provided some bold leadership with the TANF law coming up for reauthorization to make recommendations about how we might get people out of poverty and that this law and this is reauthorization could play at least a limited measure in doing that. What would you see in that hypothetical world as the key elements that we need to have in a law focused on lifting people out of poverty, reducing the underclass in this society?
Ms. Lower‑Basch. So. Thank you. That is a big question. And, obviously, TANF by itself is not going to lift everyone out poverty. Clearly, the other programs that Mr. Besharov mentioned are very important. Minimum wage, labor market as a whole. So, obviously, TANF is only going to be a piece. Within TANF, I do think it is engaging people in work activities, to the extent that they are able. I do think it is recognizing that some people are going to need to take the more indirect path, that, you know, if people are in the middle of being homeless, if their kids are, you know, about to go into foster care, that they need to focus on getting housing or resolving the problems that are in crisis. If they are ‑‑ do have mental health or substance abuse issues, they might get a job, but they are going to get fired from it, you know, if they are really in trouble. So they need to resolve those issues and then move to work.
I think, at a Federal level, I do think providing flexibility to States in return for real accountability on their accomplishments; as I said, I think funding subsidized employment is ‑‑ that is clearly, when the public, private sector jobs are not available, a great way to give people real work experience, real connections to the work. And it also helps the employers. We know a lot of small businesses benefited from that during the recession.
Mr. Doggett. Some of the testimony has indicated that the job training and educational opportunities really don’t accomplish very much. And it does appear that some of these job training programs have not been very successful.
What is your assessment of the role in any reform we have of the outcomes we should require concerning education and job training programs.
Ms. Lower‑Basch. Right. So let me start with the jobs evaluation, which is the study that did drive a lot of this belief that education doesn’t work. And those programs clearly were not very effective. People were in very low‑intensity programs. They didn’t get anywhere. We know now that you need to have credentials that have value in the labor market. You need to be much more connected to what employers say they need and not just more classroom‑based. We have learned a lot in the past 20 years. The economy has also, frankly, changed. The unemployment rate for people without a high school degree is twice what it is for anyone else. And employers are increasingly unwilling to just hire the folks like your dad, who have got a great attitude but don’t have any of the skills. They want people ready to show up and do the job on the first day. So we need to give people access to that training.
Mr. Doggett. We have already let one program, the supplemental grants under TANF, expire. That was a benefit in Texas and a total of 17 States. What is the effect of losing that supplemental program and how should it be a factor in looking at further revisions or reauthorization of TANF.
Ms. Lower‑Basch. Right. So, overall, the value of the TANF block grant has been fixed in nominal dollars since it was created in 1996. So it has lost about 30 percent of its value. In the 17 States that got supplemental grants, obviously, the cut has been even greater.
As we know, States do a lot of different things with their TANF block grants. So, in some cases, it is hard to pick specific things. But we know, in recent years, States have been cutting actually their Welfare‑to‑Work contracts; in many cases, providing less services. In many cases, child care has gotten cut back, which means that in some States, people are back to this crazy Catch‑22, where you have to go on welfare in order to get a child care subsidy because the waiting list for child care for working poor is so long. All of these things happen when funding gets squeezed over time.
Mr. Doggett. Thank you and to all the witnesses, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Doggett.
Mr. Kelly, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Kelly. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Turner, I was really interested in your testimony. One of the things is the dissolution of the family. When I looked at the title of this, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the key to that being temporary, again, being a bridge from one point to another. And when we look at all these programs, we look at what the intentions were and then how far we get away from some of those things.
But in your testimony, you talk ‑‑ I think it is on page 1, about the dissolution of families. If you could just address that a little bit. Because I think the concern is ‑‑ and coming from the private sector, I never, ever, in my lifetime ever regretted investing one penny in any type of a program that would train the people that worked for me in our dealership to get from where they were to where they could go, depending on their potential. But the key was we already had jobs for them. We had a market waiting for them. We had a way for them to rise from where they were.
I just look at some of these programs and I think, Ms. Lower‑Basch, you just made a statement, we are so far away from what we intended originally.
Thanks for the variance in means. That is great.
And I have only been here 2 years. But the idea was a great idea. But we want it to be a bridge from where you are to where you want to be and where you can be and where you should be.
So, Mr. Turner, talk about this dissolution of family. Because I see in our culture right now, in our society, that basic family structure being broken down for many different reasons. A lot of it has to do with the economy. But you have got to be able to take care of your own. You have got to be able to take care of yourself. And you have got to be able to dream that you can actually rise from where you started to wherever you want to go.
This is troubling, is it not?
Mr. Turner. Yes, I think you are right. Absolutely, it is troubling. And the family is the original income transfer program, if you will, meaning, fathers, mothers, and children all transfer support to each other within the family unit. And once the family unit is dissolved, and fathers and mothers go their separate ways, it is very difficult for government to substitute as a parent or as an income source for the family.
What they found out in this experiment is that over time, in 3 to 5 years of samples, both blacks and whites, and to a lesser extend Chicanos, had marital dissolution effects that were significant.
We don’t know precisely how that works. But we think that when there is an income that comes in that is not connected to the father or the mother’s active employment and bringing money into the family, that the two parties tend to separate both psychologically and have different sources of income and, because they have an alternative source of income, tend to stop working and family breakup occurs.
Mr. Kelly. When you expand that and you look at different programs that are available, really it is that ability to stay together as a family to get through the hard times that makes it very, very real then that as you go forward, as a child, if you see your parents working that way and you know they depend on each other for the general good of the whole family, then it works.
I have noticed, at least in my lifetime ‑‑ I don’t have data to support this, this is just what I have noticed ‑‑ I have noticed that those folks who really have that strong family bond, that nuclear family, tend to be able to get through hard times really well and then tend to duplicate those same experiences as they get older.
So I know these programs are all necessary. And I think that we want to make sure that they are reaching the goal that we intend for them.
So I want to thank you all for being here today. It is so important that we hear from you and that we continue this open dialogue to find out what we can do to really help our fellow citizens who need our help right now, but make sure that at the end, the end result actually gets to where we want it to be and we don’t create some type of a model that leads to a further dissolution of the family and a further separation of those roles I think we consider so basic in our society.
I thank you.
And I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Kelly.
Mr. Davis, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Davis. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And I, too, want to thank our witnesses for being here and for their testimony.
You know, as I listened to the discussion and as I thought about it prior to coming, Ms. Brown, am I correct when I recall that you indicated that since the creation of TANF, there have been very few requests for waivers from States?
Ms. Brown. That is correct.
Mr. Davis. Do you have any idea why there may not have been any?
Ms. Brown. Well, we have been talking about this. And I think one of the things to bear in mind is that in the early years after TANF was created, you know, States did have a great deal of flexibility, and they were experimenting in designing their own programs. And as time went on, the requirements for meeting their work participation rate and the constraints that States faced in meeting those work participation rates may have at that point increased some of the interest that we saw in more recent years asking for waivers. But beyond that, we know what was requested and we know what HHS said, but we have not done a lot of work on the reasons behind that.
Mr. Davis. And you have not had to do a lot of work on trying to determine whether you would or would not grant a waiver. If nobody is asking, then you don’t really have to deal a great deal with that. Right?
Ms. Brown. I see you point. Yes.
Mr. Davis. Ms. Basch, let me ask you, the director of the Congressional Budget Office testified last week that the budget cuts in the sequester, which begins tomorrow, would reduce employment by 750,000 jobs by the end of the year.
How do you think this might affect or impact our efforts to take people from welfare and put them to work?
Ms. Lower‑Basch. Obviously, as, you know ‑‑ a few of the job losses from the sequester may directly impact low‑income parents. Both ‑‑ you know, some of them may work as school aids or something like that, that would be affected. But it is more likely that low-income people will feel the indirect effects of the overall economy and reduced job growth and reduced jobs. So, yes, it will make it harder for people to find work. Many low‑income families will obviously be affected by the direct spending cuts, things like Head Start and WIC as well.
Mr. Davis. You know, I feel that there is a tremendous amount of myth that is projected, percolated about the willingness of people and the desire of individuals to work. I have lived in low‑income communities all of my life, from the time I was born until even today. And many of those individuals had some difficulty. I was intrigued by the chairman’s story relative to his childhood because my family had pretty much the same experience. I can recall my father saying that he would rather drink muddy wine than stand in a line to get some food and sleep in a hollow log. I mean, that was his expression.
And so this notion somehow that there are these vast numbers of people who want to live off public help, I think is more myth than reality.
Are you aware of, Ms. Basch, programs that really help facilitate the entre of individuals into the workforce, and what are some of those?
Chairman Reichert. Could you make your answer short? Time has expired. Go ahead.
Ms. Lower‑Basch. I just want to say that, you know, we do think it requires both pieces; it requires the skills for the jobs but also the actual connection to the employers who are hiring. We know successful programs don’t just train people up and then send them out in the world. They really make those direct connections from employers and, in some cases, give them the opportunity to demonstrate their work skills.
Mr. Davis. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Davis.
Mr. Renacci, you are recognized.
Mr. Renacci. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank all the witnesses for being here today.
You know, there was some discussion about labor and my colleague was talking about sequestration, maybe the loss of jobs. But, Mr. Besharov, we have talked about in your testimony how a number of European countries have incorporated activity or welfare‑to‑work provisions into their social programs. Many of those countries have done so while dealing with high unemployment and other difficult labor market conditions. Based on your research in the area, what do you say or what have those European countries said to those who argue welfare‑to‑work policies cannot be effectively implemented or should be suspended during time of high unemployment?
Mr. Besharov. Well, that is the crucial question here. And I think the answer depends on the political system or the political party in charge in each country. There has been a real pushback in Germany and somewhat of a pushback in some of the Nordic countries. But in the countries run by liberal or socialist governments, such as France, there has been no pushback. Here is the argument: They look at that chart which I showed you on figure 1, and they see something between 60 and 70 percent of the people who are eligible to work in the right age category working, but 30, 35 percent not working. And they see that number growing. And they don’t think that they have a future, economically, when the number is decreasing, when there are fewer people working.
And so they take a deep breath and they say, we have to push as many people as possible into looking for work. When they do that, two things happen: Number one, people who otherwise were disenchanted or discouraged about finding work, some of them find work. And the other part that happens is because there are people looking for jobs, and there is a push and pull about this, because there is more supply of workers, especially low‑income workers, employers are more likely to expand and hire people.
Now, this isn’t a magic potion. And we are not going to eradicate unemployment. But we do have to use every means at our disposal to get the United States back in fighting shape. And this is one of the ways. One of the ways is to encourage everyone who is of the age to work and healthy enough to work to look for work.
Mr. Renacci. Thank you.
Mr. Turner, Congress has spent years designing, reviewing, and modifying work requirements in TANF programs. And it is for that reason I strongly believe that any changes to requirements should be first handled by Congress through legislation. But I would ask, if this waiver is allowed to move forward, is it possible that States could maybe even want to go further with waiver programs like this?
Mr. Turner. Well, what we know from good work programs is that even if there ‑‑ even if somebody is not on unemployment, if he is engaged in a work activity that is creating something of value, it is a value to a recipient himself. For instance, in New York City, welfare recipients engaged in work in parks throughout the city, which has increased their level of cleanliness from 85 percent to 95 percent. So why is that important? Because those people going into the parks are learning important lessons about work habits, reliability, staying on the job, taking direction from supervisors. These are the things that employers say are most missing among the low‑income population; work habits, as opposed to work skills. Okay.
So to answer your question, from that point of view, I think that once you get away from a program which offers an opportunity to actually provide work in a work‑like setting and you do things like bedrest or staying in a remedial class, you are losing the opportunity to do what we call work hardening or getting organized around the idea that to take a job, you have to be prepared to keep the job, to stay on the job, and to get along with people. That is the main thing that you can learn outside of the labor force in a workforce setting.
Mr. Renacci. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
Chairman Reichert. Mr. Lewis.
Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing.
I want to thank all of the witnesses for being here today. Today the House is considering a bill to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act, one of the most important life‑changing bills Congress ever created. I don’t know how many of you know that TANF is an important part of the puzzle in helping survivors of domestic violence get back on their feet. A Huffington Post article broke down the challenges facing poor parents in the State of Georgia, my State, and deterring applicants. In fact, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence gave up helping women apply for TANF benefits.
Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to submit the full article for the record.
Chairman Reichert. Without objection.
[The information follows: The Honorable John Lewis]
Mr. Lewis. Now, I happen to believe that poverty is a radical evil in our society. At one time, when we had full employment, unemployment was down to 4 percent, right? And we said we had full employment. There were still hundreds and thousands and millions of poor people. And we had the war on poverty. We had all these groups. Can any member of this panel suggest or tell me what should we do as a society, as a Nation, to maybe have a radical good, to abolish poverty from this land?
It is shameful, it is a disgrace. When you travel through America, in spite of all of the resources, there are still so many people left behind. You are right: They are black. They are white. They are Latino. They are Asian Americans. They are Native American. I travel and I have seen this country. If we had all the resources, if we have millions and billions of dollars, end the wars, stop spending so much money on bombs and missiles and guns and take care of our people here at home. What would you suggest that we do? What proposal? What plan?
Ms. Lower‑Basch. As I said, you know, I think it is going to be a multi‑tiered thing. One problem is there are an awful lot of people who are working, many cases full time, year round, and they are still poor. Because we have got an economy that has a lot of low‑wage jobs. So there is a piece about both, you know, improving the labor market, providing supports for workers. There is a piece about, you know, people who have disabilities that really do prevent them from working. There are lots of different ‑‑ there is no magic bullet. It is going to be 30 bullets, you know ‑‑ I hate to use that metaphor. Let me not.
But it is going to be a lot of different pieces to the puzzle to put together. TANF is one of the pieces, and it has been a broken link. Your example of Georgia. Georgia used to pay TANF caseworkers to go to domestic violence shelters to help women apply for cash assistance. They stopped doing that because they decided they did not want to make it easy for people to get cash assistance. You know, you don’t want people to, you know, break up marriages, when they are good marriages. But when there is a domestic violence situation, you want TANF to be that lifeline. And it is not always there. So, yes, it has been a broken piece in the puzzle.
Mr. Besharov. I am struck, Mr. Lewis, by the point you made and the point Mr. Kelly made. Because they are actually two parts of the same problem, which is the weakness of the family.
I was at a job training problem in Newark, inner city Newark. And these were women, almost entirely minority, who had been practical nurses, and they were in training program to become registered nurses. And this is automatic; you go from $25,000 a year to $45,000 or $50,000. It just happens ‑‑ you know, there is no magic bullet. It is once they get the skills, whether it is the Affordable Care Act or whatever, there are jobs. So this is automatic.
And there were about 150 women in the room. And I said, “What is the biggest problem that you have?” And one of them got up and said, “Well, the man in my life just doesn’t make it easy for me. One day I went home, all my furniture was in the street, and he had set fire to it.”
Now, I said to myself, this is crazy. I am sure, I said, “How many other women have a problem like that?” Three hands. I said, “You mean exactly like that?” They said, “Yes.”
Now, we have MDRC research from New York City when they did their program of job training and support for inner city women who wanted, volunteered, to go through job training and find a job. And what they found that was one of the major reasons why those women didn’t make it is because the men in their lives did not support the idea of them becoming independent.
So some part of this, some part of this is about family relations. We may call it family violence. We may call it the broken family. But a part of this is getting these young ‑‑ I am feeling this age issue ‑‑ getting these young people to do it right.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you.
Mr. Lewis. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Lewis.
Mr. Young, you are recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Young. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and ranking member as well.
Important conversation. This really does fit into the larger picture of how we address poverty in this country. So I am glad that Mr. Lewis brought that up.
This is such a multifaceted challenge. Of course, the program we are here to discuss today plays a very important role in that puzzle. The weakness of the family. I have to say, before I get into the immediate concern of this hearing, I think if we could get the economy to grow a little faster, we would alleviate so much. I saw all heads nodding affirmatively on our panel when I said that. It would create more wherewithal so that we could fund these important programs, provide more hope and opportunity for people that ‑‑ perhaps incentivize them to, if they are not already searching for work, to go out and search more actively, and just restore some hope and dignity and prosperity in this country. Because we know those on the margins of society who benefit from many of these important programs are most adversely hurt during a down economy. So reforming the Tax Code, the regulatory code and so on are things that we really need to do.
With that said, I know we are here today to discuss the implications of HHS’ unilateral decision to waive work requirements from the TANF program. At a time when national poverty rates and welfare spending are very high, at least compared to recent history, Congress needs to ensure that those who need help are receiving TANF in a manner that provides a path to self‑sufficiency, which includes ensuring that the job training programs that are out there are effective. But we must not waive requirements that have led to more jobs and earnings and also reduced poverty and welfare dependence. On that, I hope all of us can agree.
Now, before the 1996 Federal Welfare Law was signed into law by President Clinton, my home state of Indiana, under a Democrat Governor, Evan Bayh, created work requirements for Hoosiers who received welfare benefits. This ensured Hoosiers who were receiving benefits really got the benefits they needed. But we targeted this program toward those who needed the benefits most.
As former Governor Bayh later said, the bottom line was trying to make someone self‑sufficient. We were trying to achieve two values: One was the notion of community, and also responsibility. So this is exactly, in my estimation, what the 1996 Federal Welfare Reform Law did, and is exactly what the Obama Administration is undermining through this unilateral decision by HHS.
So if HHS now claims they have the authority to waive work requirements, I am curious, and I will direct this question to Ms. Brown, I know GAO hasn’t conducted a legal analysis about the authority to grant these waivers unilaterally, but did you indicate that you have reviewed documentation showing that there is no evidence the administration has believed it had the authority in the past. So does this set us up on a sort of slippery slope here? What conceivably could HHS claim they could waive within the TANF program in the future?
Ms. Brown. I am quite sure that our general counsel will advise me that I have to be very careful with this question. I think ‑‑
Mr. Young. Please don’t. Just be candid and forthright.
Ms. Brown. I think the issue is that what we saw when we looked at the records was a number of requests that States have made that were not necessarily grand redesigns. And during that process, HHS said, again and again, different people, different levels, we don’t have that authority, we don’t have that authority.
And then, as the President issued a memorandum telling Federal agencies to talk to States and locals about how to remove some of the burdens so that programs could work more effectively, they were hearing from States that they would like waivers. And HHS said they were beginning to think about whether ‑‑ they were revisiting whether they had waiver authority. That is as much as I know.
Mr. Young. That was a very carefully constructed response. But much appreciated. And I thank you very much for your testimony.
I yield back.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you.
Mr. Griffin, you are recognized.
Mr. Griffin. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for holding this hearing.
Mr. Besharov, I want to ask you, you talked about ‑‑ Mr. Young was talking about the theory upon which the change was made. I want to know why it was made. Why would we take away the requirement that some sort of work ‑‑ we have heard a lot about traditional work here. But I think that is a mischaracterization. I am looking at all the different combinations that one can engage in to fulfill the work requirement. There are all sorts of different things. And it seems to me the point of this is to get people engaged in productive work‑related, work‑type activities; not traditional work, necessarily. But why would the administration do this?
Mr. Besharov. Well, let me just quickly follow up on what Ms. Brown said.
The authority the administration is using to justify the waivers is quite a big gun. It is saying we have the authority to modify what you, the States, have to report to us; therefore, we can waive any portion of TANF. It is not just this portion, based on that.
I have a feeling if the shoe was on the other foot, which is to say, if this were a Democratic House and a Republican Congress, we would have the same debate, only with different faces on the argument. This is a major expansion of executive authority if it is legal. If it is legal, it is because of quite a loophole; it is the teeniest little loophole that they are driving a truck through.
You asked the question, though, why might they want to do it? And it is because of the argument you are seeing here, which is, some people read the history and the current situation to mean the best way to get people into a productive job is for them to get into a productive job and increase their earnings and experience. Other people think the best way to do it is through education and training first. That is a big argument. It was not quite settled in 1996. But for a while, the work‑first people had it; they were going with it. The people who are on the losing end of that argument are, in large measure, in the administration. So they get now, as the President says, I won the election. So they are revisiting this argument about work‑first versus job training. I think that is what it comes down to. I think they are wrong, but I think they ‑‑ it is a longstanding argument.
One is never ‑‑ I was trained as a lawyer ‑‑ one is never supposed to ask a witness a question you don’t know the answer to. But I believe, Jason, I believe it is the case that before you became commissioner in New York, one half ‑‑ one half of the women at City College were on welfare.
Mr. Turner. Yes, that is actually true. And beyond that, Mr. Besharov, they didn’t graduate.
Mr. Griffin. We will save time for you to ask him questions.
Mr. Besharov. Sorry. I apologize.
Mr. Griffin. My time is up.
It looks to me like education is a big part of combinations that I am looking at. For those of us who have spent a lot of time getting an education and had spent a lot of time working, I think we can do a good job assessing which is the best preparation for life. But, correct me if I am wrong, and I know that there was some sensitivity to getting into this by Ms. Brown, but the administration was ‑‑ they were opposed to, legally opposed to changing this before they were in favor of it. Is that fair? Could you speak to that? If she can’t, can you?
Mr. Besharov. I think this was a new interpretation that reversed the opinion that HHS had for many years. It is clearly a new interpretation. And it gives them authority that many people, including HHS, didn’t know it had before.
Mr. Griffin. Thank you, Mr. Besharov.
Looks like I am out of time.
Chairman Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Griffin.
Thank you all for your testimony today. I also want to thank the members for being here at this important hearing. We have lots of work to do. Hopefully, we can come to an agreement so we can help those people out in our Nation who really need our help.
A reminder to all members, if you have additional questions for the witnesses, they will be submitted in writing, please. And we would appreciate receiving your responses when you get their questions in writing for the record within 2 weeks.
We now adjourn the meeting, thank you.
[Whereupon, at 10:30 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
Public Submission For The Record
All Families Deserve a Chance Coalition
Goodwill Industries International
Center for Fiscal Equity
National Alliance to End Homelessness and The Arc