Capitol View on Kids: The Latest News from Washington on Children and Families

Senate Finance Looks at Poverty and TANF Reauthorization

On Tuesday, June 6, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing, “Combating Poverty: Understanding New Challenges for Families.” The hearing focused on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.

TANF is the $16.5 billion block grant that replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cash assistance program in 1996. The committee heard from three witnesses: Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution, Washington D.C.; Laura Lein, University of Michigan School of Social Work; and Kay Brown, Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Much of the focus of the testimony, questions and answers was on the shortcomings of the TANF block grant. Generally, the criticisms come from two directions. The first is that TANF did not respond effectively to the Great Recession due to the lack of increase in cash assistance caseloads at the height of the recession and the criticism that much of the $16.5 billion in TANF funds are spent in areas not clearly identified. TANF has undergone one full reauthorization since its 1996 creation. That was in 2006 as part of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA). It has also had several extensions generally lasting a year with the most recent this past December.

In his opening remarks, Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) emphasized his concern over the number of children in poverty, now set at 16 million. He raised concerns over the TANF response to the recession, pointing to level caseloads despite the increasing unemployment and he indicated that in at least some states cash assistance caseloads actually went down while jobs were being lost. Ranking Member of the Finance Committee Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) expressed his concern over the poverty rate and the limited effectiveness of TANF as a program to promote work readiness among adults. Instead, Hatch said, “TANF as a robust welfare-to-work program has all but diminished and in large part has been replaced by the emergence of TANF as a child welfare program.” Senator Hatch also criticized the Obama Administration for its failure to submit a reauthorization proposal.

Ron Haskins, who played a major role in the writing of the 1996 TANF law as the staff director for the human resources subcommittee on the House Ways and Means Committee, suggested that there were four key factors that were having an impact on the nation’s poverty rates: low work rates (in particular among young males), low wages over the past 30 years, and the composition of families and limited education for some populations.

GAO Director Brown restated some of the GAO’s previous observations and testimony on the limited reaction of TANF to the recession, pointing out that 71 percent of TANF funding is spent on programs and services outside of cash assistance. Dean Laura Lein suggested that some of the keys to enabling adults and families to escape poverty included a continuing robust EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and TANF, despite its current shortfalls, access to both child care and health insurance, and implementing best practices in employment training.

Brown also suggested that for adults unable to work due to physical or mental disabilities, access to partial supports such as supported work placements and longer-term income and rehabilitative assistance was important.

Mr. Haskins said that some of the challenges in regard to TANF’s effectiveness could be tied back to the last full reauthorization of TANF in 2006 the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. States are required to have a certain percentage of adults in work or work programs, but in that reauthorization, the flexibility to meet the work requirements was limited in areas such as education counting as work and other limitations on the work definitions.

Haskins argued that as a result, states had less success in placing adults through some of the work strategies that had been allowed under the original law. Haskins pointed out that when states were given additional funds under the 2009 stimulus, they did, in fact, create more than 260,000 jobs for welfare recipients but then Congress failed to continue the funding, which he criticized.

There was also a great deal of discussion in regard to TANF funding being used for child welfare funding. States use a substantial amount of TANF funds to fund their child welfare systems. Past surveys by the Urban Institute and Child Trends indicate that states get 20 percent of their federal child welfare funding from TANF. Recent data from states indicate that 30 percent of TANF dollars fall into the category of “other” with much of this funding for child welfare services.

It is not clear, however, how these child welfare dollars are spent by states. As a funding source, TANF can give states flexibility to wrap services around vulnerable children and families. TANF also provides funding for kinship families who may not be in the child welfare system but are relative families in need of some additional help in caring for their relative children. In fact, based on figures from the TANF Annual Report, there are more children in TANF kinship care settings then there are children in foster care. Cash assistance and child welfare have a historical link since foster care evolved from the AFDC system in the early 1960s, and was eventually designated as a separate Title IV-E funding source in 1980.

Copies of Committee testimony can be found here.

Report and Briefing Examine Teen Pregnancy and Graduation Rates

On June 7 the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and America’s Promise Alliance used a Capitol Hill briefing as a forum to release a new report, Teen Pregnancy and High School Drops: What Communities Can Do to Address these Issues. The report, which you can access here, examined the link between teen pregnancy and dropping out of high school.

The analysis conducted by the two organizations examined 2008 data within the 25 school districts that have the lowest achievement levels. These 25 school districts produce 20 percent of all high school dropouts. All have graduation rates at 60 percent or lower. At the same time these 25 districts result in 16 percent of all teen pregnancies nationwide.

The report highlighted the significance that unplanned pregnancies can have on this population, with 34 percent of teen mothers earning neither a diploma nor a GED compared to six percent of young women in the comparable age group. Overall, 30 percent of teen girls surveyed indicated that pregnancy or parenthood was a major reason to leave high school early.

The report includes some of the efforts of school districts, public agencies, and community- based organizations from California, New York, Texas and Tennessee in what they are doing to use innovative strategies and activities to help students avoid pregnancy and complete their high school education. Some of these strategies generally include reaching out to parents, community leaders sharing best practices, including school administrators and professionals in the strategy development and implementation, and providing training to school staff and teachers.

Appropriations Update: Senate Moves on Labor-HHS June 12

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee is set to vote on an appropriations bill on Tuesday of this week. To see a comparison of the proposed budgets spending levels for key child welfare programs in 2013 go to


· Tues., June 12, 2012, 2-4:30: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Roundtable Discussion on Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA). Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Mary Landrieu and the cosponsors. Senate Dirksen Building, Room 562—NOTE ROOM CHANGE. If you would like to be a participant in this Roundtable, please RSVP to

·Tuesday, June 19, 2:30 PM: The American Bar Association and the National Foster Care Coalition, Children and Family Futures and the Child Welfare League of America will host a briefing on the Reunification of children in foster care with their families. The briefing is part of recognizing June as Family Reunification month. 122 Cannon House Office Building.

·On June 21, 12-2 the Child Welfare and Mental Health Coalition and National Foster Care Coalition are sponsoring a Meeting on Oversight of Psychotropic Medication for Children in Foster Care, at the Children’s Defense Fund (25 E St, NW Washington DC), RSVP to Stefanie Sprow (ssprow at childrensdefense dot org) by Friday, June 15. Dr. David Rubin and Meredith Matone from PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will present on the results of Policy Lab’s recent study.

·On Wed., June 27: First Focus is holding a Children’s Budget Summit, the Summit will focus on how children have fared in the 2012 budget and appropriations process. U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Congressional Auditorium. RSVP

John Sciamanna is a strategic consultant on child welfare policy and legislation.

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