Inside Paul Ryan’s Next Big Thing: Welfare Reform

Draft legislation of “the biggest redesign of TANF in its history” will be reviewed on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trailed by reporters while walking through Statuary Hall the U.S. Capitol building, June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Yesterday House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his Virginia primary to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat, opening a slot for Majority Leader.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Dylan Scott
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Dylan Scott
July 14, 2015, 4:01 p.m.

House Ways and Means Chair­man Paul Ry­an is ready to test his luck on a dif­fi­cult and of­ten-thank­less task: wel­fare re­form.

Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an staffers have been quietly work­ing on le­gis­la­tion to sig­ni­fic­antly over­haul the Tem­por­ary As­sist­ance for Needy Fam­il­ies pro­gram since late April, ac­cord­ing to aides for both parties. A draft bill gets its first pub­lic air­ing Wed­nes­day in a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing.

The bill is a pri­or­ity for Ry­an, and both sides agree that the ma­jor­ity has act­ively worked to in­cor­por­ate Demo­crat­ic ideas in­to the pro­pos­al, provid­ing real op­tim­ism that law­makers could pass something this Con­gress, a dec­ade since TANF was last reau­thor­ized. But as al­ways when “wel­fare re­form” and so­cial spend­ing are on the dock­et, the bill will surely have to sidestep some land mines to be en­acted.

(RE­LATED: So­cial Is­sue Head­aches Con­tin­ue for House GOP)

Ry­an said Tues­day that he was op­tim­ist­ic that wel­fare re­form would get done. His Demo­crat­ic coun­ter­part was a little more coy.

“I think it’s use­ful to be dis­cuss­ing it,” Ways and Means rank­ing mem­ber Sander Lev­in said. “I hope it’s con­struct­ive.”

The dis­cus­sion draft still has un­fin­ished sec­tions, and those in­volved em­phas­ized that the ef­fort has a long way to go.

But if a bill re­sem­bling the cur­rent draft gets done, every­body agrees it would be the most sig­ni­fic­ant makeover of TANF — cre­ated in 1996 un­der Pres­id­ent Bill Clin­ton and a Re­pub­lic­an Con­gress to re­place the pre­vi­ous wel­fare pro­gram — since its in­cep­tion. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and states spend about $30 bil­lion an­nu­ally on TANF, which serves about 2 mil­lion fam­il­ies.

(RE­LATED: House GOP Pulls An­oth­er Bill From Floor Over Abor­tion)

“If something close to this gets en­acted, this would be the biggest re­design of TANF in its his­tory,” said Liz Schott, seni­or fel­low at the lib­er­al Cen­ter on Budget and Policy Pri­or­it­ies. “It’s look­ing like the most ser­i­ous move­ment we’ve seen in a while.”

Ry­an said in the lame-duck ses­sion last year that he wanted to pur­sue wel­fare re­form once he had the Ways and Means gavel. But the is­sue largely flew un­der the radar while Con­gress pur­sued a per­man­ent fix to the flawed Medi­care doc­tor-pay­ment for­mula, de­bated fast-track trade au­thor­ity, and waited for the Su­preme Court to rule on the fu­ture of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

It was after an April 30 hear­ing on ideas for im­prov­ing wel­fare that staffers got to work on the re­cently re­leased dis­cus­sion draft. Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an aides said that they have been in con­sist­ent con­tact de­vel­op­ing the bill, with the goal of pro­du­cing something that could ac­tu­ally pass and be signed by Pres­id­ent Obama. Louisi­ana GOP Rep. Charles Bous­tany and Texas Demo­crat­ic Rep. Lloyd Dog­gett are the top mem­bers of the pan­el that meets Wed­nes­day, and they have also shaped the bill.

TANF hasn’t been prop­erly reau­thor­ized since 2005, and its cur­rent ex­ten­sion ends Sept. 30.

Three changes would likely have the biggest im­pact.

(RE­LATED: The Re­pub­lic­an Es­tab­lish­ment’s Ma­jor Di­vide)

First, it would al­low states to count more activ­it­ies — such as job-skills train­ing and edu­ca­tion — to­ward the pro­gram’s work re­quire­ments. States os­tens­ibly are re­quired to have at least 50 per­cent of their TANF re­cip­i­ents par­ti­cip­ate in some kind of work activ­ity for a set num­ber of hours per week to avoid fin­an­cial pen­al­ties.

Second, it would elim­in­ate a num­ber of loop­holes that states have used to count to­ward that work-activ­ity meas­ure­ment, mean­ing states would have to have more people ac­tu­ally work­ing to re­ceive be­ne­fits. Aides cited those two pro­vi­sions as an ex­ample of the bill’s bi­par­tis­an nature: Demo­crats have long wanted more activ­it­ies to count as work and Re­pub­lic­ans have wanted to en­sure that more be­ne­fi­ciar­ies par­ti­cip­ate in work activ­it­ies.

Third, the bill would cre­ate a new ac­count­ab­il­ity sys­tem. States would have new out­come met­rics to meas­ure wheth­er people leav­ing TANF found em­ploy­ment and in­creased their in­come. If states fail to meet the met­rics, they could lose a por­tion of their TANF fund­ing start­ing in 2018, which they would be able to earn back as they made im­prove­ments.

(RE­LATED: This Is Why Paul Ry­an Didn’t Run for Pres­id­ent)

Those are also some of the pro­vi­sions that could trip the le­gis­la­tion up as it at­tracts more pub­lic scru­tiny. Some Demo­crats might not be happy that the pro­gram’s spend­ing is kept flat. TANF was cre­ated as a set block grant, so lib­er­als em­phas­ize that its real value has de­clined since 1996. On the oth­er side, con­ser­vat­ives could take is­sue with ex­pand­ing what counts as work to­ward the pro­gram’s re­quire­ments.

In a year in which he’s been at the fore­front of al­most every ma­jor policy de­bate, Ry­an has put an­oth­er am­bi­tious item on his to-do list.

“We need to do an­oth­er round of wel­fare re­form, not as an ex­er­cise to save money, but as an ex­er­cise to save lives and to get people from wel­fare to work and real­ize op­por­tun­ity and up­ward mo­bil­ity,” he said earli­er this year, “be­cause there are too many people who don’t think the Amer­ic­an idea is ever there for them again, and that’s a tragedy.”

What We're Following See More »
TEXAS AND ARKANSAS BASES COULD ACCOMMODATE KIDS
U.S. May House 20K Immigrants on Military Bases
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"The United States is preparing to shelter as many as 20,000 migrant children on four American military bases" in Texas and Arkansas, "as federal officials struggled to carry out President Trump’s order to keep immigrant families together after they are apprehended at the border."

Source:
CONFERENCE ASKS FOR FURTHER CHANGES
Vote on Compromise Immigration Bill Gets Bumped to Next Week
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"House Republican leaders are further delaying a vote on a compromise immigration bill, planning to make changes to the legislation for a vote next week. The news comes after a two-hour Republican Conference meeting Thursday, in which authors of the bill walked through its contents and members raised concerns about issues the bill doesn’t address, multiple GOP lawmakers said. Many members requested the addition of a provision to require employers to use the E-Verify database to cheek the legal status of their employees."

Source:
COMPROMISE BILL TO GET VOTE TOMORROW
Conservative Immigration Bill Goes Down to Defeat
3 days ago
THE LATEST

After a conservative-backed immigration bill failed in the House, 193-231, leaders "postponed a vote on a 'compromise' immigration proposal until Friday. ... GOP leaders, however, are under no impression that they'll be able to secure the 218 votes needed in the next 24 hours to pass the text. Rather, the delay is to give members more time to read the bill."

Source:
CONFUSION REIGNS
Immigration Votes May Get Delayed Until Friday
3 days ago
THE LATEST
FOLLOW-UP TO YESTERDAY’S EXEC ORDER
Prosecutions of Families with Children at Border to Cease
3 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login