The federal government calls its principal program of cash aid to the poor Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a product of the welfare reform enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1996. The word “temporary” referred to the program’s goal of moving recipients into jobs as opposed to permitting long-term dependency. Congress has not enacted a full-blown TANF reauthorization statute since 2005, and since that one expired in 2010, the program has been surviving on a series of short-term extensions. Consequently, long-standing concerns about its operation – held by Republicans and Democrats – have been allowed to persist.
Now, however, there are signs that TANF is in for an update. The House Ways and Means Committee has produced the outline for a five-year reauthorization, including the first full revision of program rules in a decade. Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is spearheading the effort, but it’s bipartisan in the sense that Democratic members of the committee also seem open to passing a bill before the most recent extension expires on Sept. 30.
At its core, the 1996 welfare reform created a new bargain between the government and the poor. The former would provide cash, for a finite period, and the latter would work, or prepare to work. Over the years, though, Republicans and Democrats have squabbled over the work requirement, with the GOP arguing that there were too many loopholes and Democrats insisting that it was unrealistically strict, especially given the tough post-recession job market.
The proposal under discussion at Ways and Means would resolve the conflict by giving each side what it most wants: for Republicans, fewer permissible exceptions to the work requirement; for Democrats, a broader definition of what constitutes “work” for purposes of receiving TANF.
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This is excerpted from The Washington Post.