June 05,2012

Press Contact:

Communications Office
(202) 224-4515

Baucus Says Strong TANF Program Will Help Lift Families out of Poverty

As prepared for delivery

Robert Kennedy once said, “…As long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.”

Nearly 50 million Americans are currently living in poverty.  That includes 16 million children.  In 2009, more than 31 percent of working families were in poverty.  That’s more than 10 million people. 

Our safety net is designed to give those in poverty a fighting chance.  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – or TANF – is one of its bedrocks. 

TANF gives people access to job training and education, and it helps fight the evil of poverty.  Today, we will look at TANF and the new challenges facing Americans in poverty.

Until the 1996 reform law, welfare was open-ended.   But through reform, Congress gave the system direction.  It now focuses on jobs and promotes self-sufficiency.  Figuratively speaking, it aims to teach people to fish. 

TANF now helps some families by funding child care, transportation and job-search support.

In 2005, the Deficit Reduction Act changed the way states managed TANF caseloads and counted participation in some programs.  Those changes did not focus on serving families and helping people find jobs. 

Instead, some states used the changes to artificially reduce caseloads, and they used TANF funds for other programs.  We saw this come into play during the Great Recession.

TANF did not respond to the recession as many of us would have hoped.  Other safety net programs expanded to make sure families were properly fed and had access to medical care.  TANF, however, did not. 

Some states actually cut caseloads, but people were not rising out of poverty.  Fewer than two million families received cash assistance through TANF last year.  That’s far less than in previous years. 

While we of course want to see the numbers of TANF recipients decrease, we want it to be for the right reason – because people are finding work.

We need to make sure it’s not because people are falling through the cracks without assistance or without a job.

And we need to learn from the lessons of the Great Recession.  TANF works well when there are jobs open for people to fill. 

But when there are millions of people looking for work, the program doesn’t respond as well as it should.  Our goal should be to craft a system that works, regardless of the economic climate.

TANF expires on September 30.  We have an opportunity to strengthen it as we work toward a reauthorization, and we need to keep our core principles in mind through that process.

The United States must have a strong social safety net, and it’s not just for the sake of having one.

The American people are our greatest national resource.  As a nation, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.

Leaders can’t lead if they’re hungry.  Inventors can’t invent if they’re homeless. 

So let us prepare for a full reauthorization of TANF.  Let us remember that our nation is only as great as the least among us.  And let us move forward to fight the evil of poverty.