House votes to block TANF improvements.

September 24, 2012

On September 20, 2012, the House of Representatives approved H.J.Res. 118, legislation that would block Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) efforts to strengthen employment outcomes of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients.  

This measure is in response to the July 12, 2012 Information Memorandum (IM) issued by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at HHS, which offers states the opportunity to develop “alternative and innovative strategies” under the TANF program to help “parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.”  To obtain such “waiver authority,” states must develop and submit a plan for a demonstration project that promotes employment entry, retention, advancement and access to jobs.  Though a state that obtains waiver authority will be exempted from the administratively burdensome requirement of tracking work participation rates, it will be required to meet the goals and intent of welfare reform.  HHS has stipulated that each waiver request approved must include an evaluation plan as well as interim performance measures that the state must track for the duration of the project.  If a state fails to meet its performance targets, it must develop an improvement plan, and may face termination of the project.

Previously, in 2005, governors of 29 states requested waivers to improve their TANF programs.  More recently, the governors of Utah and Nevada have promoted waivers as a tool to increase employment in their states.  Governors from California, Connecticut and Minnesota have also made inquiries regarding potential waivers.  

The types of demonstration projects HHS has proposed are ones for which National Skills Coalition has advocated in the past.  On September 14, NSC wrote to Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce Committee chairmen Dave Camp and John Kline, urging them to support HHS efforts to grant more flexibility to states to pursue innovative strategies to reduce reliance on government assistance. 

Though H.J.Res. 118 has cleared the House, it is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate before the November elections.  It is unclear what, if any, further action the Senate will take when it returns in November for the lame duck session.