Senators introduce bipartisan TANF reauthorization bill, would expand access to education and training

By Kermit Kaleba, Katie Spiker, June 23, 2016

On June 23, Senators Angus King (I-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), , and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the bipartisan “Enhancing and Modernizing Pathways to Opportunity, Work, Education, and Responsibility (EMPOWER) Act of 2016,”  which will lift Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) training restrictions and will make it easier for TANF to align with other workforce programs.

The bill would reauthorize TANF for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 through FY 2021 and provide a number of important updates to the program. The bill would, among other things:

  • Explicitly include the encouragement of employment entry, retention, and advancement as one of the purposes of the TANF program;
  • Eliminates the “two-parent” work participation rate, which requires states to ensure that 90 percent of two-parent families are engaged in qualifying work activities, compared to the “all-families” rate of 50 percent;
  • Eliminate the financial penalty for a state failing to reach target work participation rates, replacing it with a requirement that a failing state increase its Maintenance of Effort (MOE) spending;
  • Similar to a proposal in the Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget request, limits federal TANF expenditures to services for families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line;
  • Eliminate limits on so-called “non-core” work activities – including job skills training or education directly related to employment – that currently can be counted towards individual work participation requirements only after an individual has completed 20 hours of other work-related activities;
  • Allow states to receive partial credit for individuals working, but not meeting their full work requirements;
  • Similar to a proposal in the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request, require states to phase in increases in spending on TANF “core” activities (including cash assistance, child care services, and work-related activities), with states required to expend at least 60 percent of TANF funds on these activities by 2021;
  • Redefines “vocational educational training” to include post-secondary, vocational, or career and technical education, and extends the limit on participation in such activities from 12 to 36 months;
  • eliminates the age cap on secondary school attendance as a work activity, which is currently limited to individuals 19 and younger;
  • Require states to develop indicators and targets for former TANF beneficiaries, starting in FY 2019, including employment and earnings for adults leaving assistance. State performance would be published by the Department of Health and Human Services on an annual basis, though states would not be subject to financial penalties for failure to achieve performance rates.

The full text of the bill may be found here; a detailed section-by-section analysis is here. National Skills Coalition strongly supports the EMPOWER Act, which is consistent with NSC’s recommendations to expand access to education and training for TANF recipients.  We applaud Senators King, Ayotte, Brown, and Capito for their leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working with policymakers to advance the commonsense reforms outlined in this bill as part of a broader TANF reauthorization effort.


Corrected to include link to updated summary