Neal Opening Statement at TANF Reauthorization Markup
(As prepared for delivery)
Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Before I begin, I want to commend Subcommittee Ranking Member, Dr. Davis, who has provided so much leadership on this issue – I know he will speak later about these efforts.
This bill represents a missed opportunity for our Committee to help struggling parents get good jobs and lift their families into the middle class. A 2015 report by the Manufacturing Institute estimated that two million manufacturing jobs in this country could go unfilled because American workers don’t have the right skills to fill them.
Most of the decline in the official labor force participation rate is due to Baby Boomer retirements and young people pursuing education. But part of it is an unusually high number “discouraged workers” – people who want jobs but have given up on finding them. Millions of children are living in poverty because their parents aren’t qualified for good jobs, and for a lack of child care, transportation, and other supports. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, currently provides little or no support for workforce development that leads to good jobs.
The bill before us today would rename TANF to the JOBS program, but it invests zero new dollars in quality workforce development programs to help parents get ahead. Zero new dollars for community college programs to offer mentorship and degrees needed for in-demand jobs. Zero new dollars for career pathway programs that combine education and supports to help people enter professions with a future. Zero new dollars for apprenticeship programs.
Together with my Democratic colleagues on the Committee, I have introduced the Improving Access to Good Jobs for Parents Act. This legislation would provide real investment in innovative new approaches to job preparation and collaborations among TANF, workforce development agencies, and other key partners like employers, unions, and community colleges. It would create critical investment in workers, the economy, and poor children for less than one percent of what the tax bill added to our debt to pay for tax breaks for those who don’t need them. I plan to offer my plan as an amendment today, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will accept it.
In addition to failing to address the jobs gap, the bill before us today does not recognize the challenges parents face when seeking job opportunities. Even with the long-overdue increase in child care funding in the Omnibus Appropriations Act, only one in six eligible children receive federal child care help. The only additional child care funding this bill provides comes from cutting another TANF fund – one that my home state of Massachusetts uses partly for child care assistance.
This Congress, we’ve seen a steady stream of efforts to cut off food, housing, and health care to families in need – the basic supports that allow parents to work. Today we can and should revise this bill to offer them real opportunities to upgrade their skills, get good jobs, and make a better life for their children. Let’s stop saying we can afford tax breaks for corporations but we can’t afford real opportunities for American workers. Instead, let’s invest in something people will take: opportunities.