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Key GOP House and Senate members introduce welfare reform plan

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House and Senate Republicans today introduced the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act of 2019. This legislation would make significant changes to the central cash welfare program in the US, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF provides welfare checks and other supports for low-income families with children. It replaced the New Deal-era Aid to Families and Dependent Children program and formed the heart of the 1996 welfare reform law that resulted in increased work and earnings and reduced poverty and welfare dependence.

Yesterday, Rep. Kevin Brady (pictured) and Sen. Steve Daines introduced the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act of 2019. Reuters/Joshua Roberts.

Congress faces regular deadlines to review and renew the TANF program and its primary federal block grant. Despite the fact that changes are needed to ensure the program remains true to its stated purpose of promoting work over welfare benefits, Congress has largely ignored TANF in recent years. Since 2014, Congress has extended the program 17 times without any significant changes; meanwhile the real value of the block grant has continued to drift downward as it is not adjusted for inflation. The latest deadline for action is June, so if Congress wants to make reforms, the time for that debate is now.

Today’s bills closely resemble legislation Republicans proposed last year. Among other changes, the bills would expect states to universally engage work-capable recipients in productive activities and hold states accountable for helping them find, retain, and advance in work. In support of that goal, States would be required to spend at least 25 percent of federal funds on supporting work activities or case management. On average, states currently spend less than 15 percent of TANF funds in these areas. While the bills extend the main TANF block grant at current levels, child care entitlement funding would increase to $3.5 billion annually.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved such a bill last May along party lines, with Democrats opposing the effort citing a lack of increased funding. That legislation didn’t advance to the House floor before the regular session ended, and an effort to take up related legislation in the lame-duck session went nowhere, too. With the House now under a Democrat majority for the first time in eight years, the prospects for these bills don’t look any better this year. Still, Republicans are eager to have this debate. And at a time when many employers are clamoring for more workers, and reforms could help more people come off the sidelines to take jobs, it’s a debate worth having.

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