September 21, 2011

WashingtonToday, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Ranking Member of the Human Resources Subcommittee, delivered a floor speech during debate on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Extension, noting that while he fully supports the bill given the alternative of allowing the program to expire, the failure of this legislation to extend the TANF Supplemental Grants at a time when more and more families need assistance is highly concerning.  If the expired Supplemental Grants are not extended, states stand to lose more than $3 billion over the next ten years, including over $500 million in Texas alone, likely resulting in programs and services that are cut at the state level.

“The term supplemental is a misnomer given how much support states will lose,” said Rep. Doggett. “A generation ago, as part of the 1996 welfare reform law, TANF Supplemental Grant funds were set aside to help the States that were negatively affected by the federal formula.  Ever since, Texas and a number of States have depended on these monies to provide assistance that their families need even at the relatively low levels that Texas funds.  Allowing these grants to expire breaks the deal on welfare reform that was struck 15 years ago."



Rep. Doggett also noted during his remarks that allowing the Supplemental Grant program to expire is in stark contrast to Republicans’ previous support for this program.  In October of 2001, Governor Rick Perry sent a letter to Tom DeLay urging the extension of TANF Supplemental Grants, saying that: “These grants have played an important role in helping hard-working men and women in Texas achieve independence from public assistance.  Congress designed the supplemental grants to address the critical program needs of states with especially high population growth and/or historically modest welfare benefits. They are critical to enabling us to help even more Texans move from welfare to work” [letters illustrating Republican support of TANF supplemental grants attached].

“We cannot allow funding for the TANF program to expire.  But we also need to move past ‘the very least we can do’ and start responding to the mounting challenges facing struggling families,” said Rep. Doggett. “We need a policy that is more safety net than hole.  And I hope eventually we can work together to achieve that.”

 

The bill passed by voice vote.  To see Rep. Doggett’s remarks, please click here.

 [Rep. Doggett’s remarks as prepared for delivery]

 

This is a bipartisan bill, which I fully support, but it is important to understand what this bill does and what it does not do.  It is important to understand upon which provisions we agree and which ones we accept as only being better than the alternative of allowing this important law and all those who count on it to expire next week.

 

Last week, the Census Bureau reported that more Americans were poor in 2010 than at any time on record.  Regrettably, my home State of Texas was leading the way, with one of the highest poverty rates anywhere in America.  The Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities, a non-partisan group, recently reported that “the heart of the American Dream is at risk in Texas.  For the first time in generations, more people are falling out of the middle class than joining its ranks.”

 

What a struggle it is for those families trying to hold on.  In a neighborhood near downtown San Antonio, Andrew Ramos and his wife, Nina, are struggling just to keep food on the table for themselves and their 2-year-old-daughter.  Andrew lost his job, and Nina works at a local pizza parlor where she makes about $200 a week.  There are so many families just like the Ramos family—almost one in five in poverty in Bexar County.

 

As John Turner at the Capital Area Food Bank concludes, “Hunger is a result of lack of income and of a livable wage,” Mr. Turner said.  “It affects too many of our citizens under the current Texas economic model."  The demands on our Food Banks, which serve as effective local public-private partnerships, are immense.  The Capital Area Food Bank this year is delivering 50% more food to the poor than it did three years ago.

 

But I don’t hear anyone facing up to this harsh reality—not our Governor in Texas, not the President of the United States, certainly not the leadership here in the House.  In fact, the Administration has shown little interest and almost no guidance in reforming this legislation. 

 

 Rather than respond to rising deprivation and declining opportunity, today’s legislation simply continues for another three months our current, inadequate policies that constitute Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act or TANF.  This is a program that today provides direct assistance to only one out of every five children living in poverty.  That’s the lowest level of poor children receiving direct assistance since 1965.  In Texas, is it much worse –only about 1 in every 20 poor children receiving assistance from TANF.

 

The bill before us could make this problem even worse in many high poverty States because it fails to extend the TANF Supplemental Grants.  A generation ago, as part of the 1996 reform of the welfare law, a reform that I personally supported, TANF Supplemental Grant funds were set aside to help the States that were negatively affected by the federal formula. 

 

Ever since, Texas and a number of States have depended on these monies in order to provide assistance that their families need even at the relatively low levels that Texas funds. 

 

In fact, the term “supplemental” is really a misnomer.  If these grants are not extended, states will lose more than $3 billion over the next decade to help struggling families and to promote work -- $500 million of that in my state of Texas.  Allowing these grants to expire breaks the deal on welfare reform that was struck 15 years ago.

 

If we don’t pass the TANF extension, TANF programs could shut down all across the country. Cash assistance would of course be affected, but cash assistance is only about a third of TANF spending.  Funding would be eliminated for a variety of programs supporting child care, work support, school dropout prevention, pregnancy prevention, and home visits by nurses to at-risk families with infants and young children.  Though we can’t say exactly what states would do if the Supplemental Grants are now renewed, CPPP in Austin says that a failure to extend Supplemental Grants would mean “programs and services— most notably child protective services—will have to be cut or funded with general revenue in the next budget cycle.”


Allowing these grants to expire is in stark contrast to Republicans’ previous support for this program.  In Oct. 2001, Rick Perry sent a letter to Tom DeLay urging the extension of TANF Supp Grants, saying that:  “These grants have played an important role in helping hard-working men and women in Texas achieve independence from public assistance.  Congress designed the supplemental grants to address the critical program needs of states with especially high population growth and/or historically modest welfare benefits. They are critical to enabling us to help even more Texans move from welfare to work”

 

Mr. Speaker, we cannot allow funding for the TANF program to expire.  But we also need to move past “the very least we can do” and start responding to the mounting challenges facing struggling families. 

 

TANF has not been adequately responsive to the increased level of need in these bad economic times. 

 

Just this month, I heard from Claudia Herrington, a nonprofit Community Relations coordinator, who sees everyday the plight of families who are struggling to make ends meet in Central Texas.  The folks served by El Buen Samaritano, primarily low income Latino families, work hard to provide for their families.  But they simply cannot do so when there is a drought of opportunity and too few livable wage jobs.  Claudia says:

 

This is not the American dream I believe in. This is not the American dream my father believed in when he emigrated from Cuba in the 1960's. I know our country is better than that, regardless of political affiliation. And I know that investment in our people and their ability to earn a decent living is a worthwhile policy.

 

We need a policy that is more safety net than hole.  And I hope eventually we can work together to achieve that.

 

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