General Articles

Welfare Reform Reauthorization Well Underway in U.S. Congress

The United States Congress is closer than ever to reauthorizing the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, more commonly known as welfare. The TANF program was originally funded under the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which Congress failed to reauthorize during the 107 th and the 108 th Congresses due to a severe lack of bipartisan support. Absent a full reauthorization, the TANF program has continued to operate through a series of short-term extensions, with the ninth and current extension set to expire on July 1, 2005 .

The currently proposed legislation, titled the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2005 (S. 105/H.R. 240), was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee with bipartisan support on March 9, 2005 and was reported out of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources on March 15, 2005. It is likely that these bills will come up for a vote on the floor of both chambers at some point during this session. There are, however, several differences between, the House and Senate versions of the bill which will ultimately need to be reconciled.

TANF includes four explicit goals that dictate how states are permitted to spend funds: 1) provide assistance to needy families so children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; 2) end the dependency of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage ; 3) prevent and reduce out of wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and 4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent families.1

The sexual and reproductive health community is most concerned about goals that focus on the promotion of marriage and the prevention and reduction of out- of-wedlock pregnancies. The House and Senate bills include several key provisions related to this area including: the extension of abstinence-only-until-marriage program funding, the Promotion of Family Formation and Healthy Marriage, and the creation of a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Resource Center .

In reference to the extension of abstinence-only-until-marriage program funding, both of bills keep the strict eight-point definition of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that was created in the original law. On the Senate side, however, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), ranking minority member of the committee, and Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) indicated their intent to offer an amendment that would give states the flexibility to choose to fund the type of abstinence-based program they choose-be it abstinence-only-until-marriage or a more comprehensive program that includes abstinence as well as discussion of the benefits of contraception for pregnancy and STD prevention, including HIV.

Another key portion of the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2005 is Section 103 of both the House and Senate versions entitled Promotion of Family Formation and Healthy Marriage. In both versions this portion of TANF lays out, in some detail, marriage promotion activities and funding. Both versions of the bill dedicate $100 million per year for either five or six years (Senate and House, respectively) to programs designed to decrease out-of-wedlock pregnancies or to move individuals and families off of welfare. Proponents of marriage argue that children, married individuals, and society all benefit from the institution of marriage . On the other hand, critics of marriage promotion fear that the promotion of marriage enforces government intrusion into private decision-making; that there will be a real, or perceived, coercion of low-income women; and that such programs may encourage or compel people to stay in abusive relationships and, therefore, may prove not to be the safest or best option for families and children. 2

In fact, studies have found that as many as 60% of women receiving welfare have been subjected to domestic violence as adults, compared with 22% of women in the general population. 3 In addition, approximately 30% of welfare recipients have reported that they had been fired or lost a job because of domestic abuse and 35% reported that the abuse hindered their education and training efforts. 4 Critics further argue that marriage promotion programs fail to address critical issues of family wellbeing such as domestic violence or substance abuse and may serve to cause children and families more harm than good. Funding currently devoted to such programs may be better spent on domestic violence counseling, child care, education, or training.

Finally, in the Senate Finance Committee’s consideration of the bill, an amendment was offered by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) to create a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Resource Center that would receive $5 million dollars over five years. This amendment was passed in the chairman’s mark with a voice vote and is not in the House version of the bill. Advocates on both sides of the debate are taking issue with the creation of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Resource Center , and its fate remains in question.

For more information on TANF and welfare reform reauthorization:

Center for Law and Social Policy

Welfare Information Network

House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources

Senate Finance Committee


1 Cynthia M. Fagnoni, Managing Director Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, Welfare Reform: Progress in Meeting Work-Focused TANF Goals ( Washington , DC : U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), 15 March 2001 ).

2 Young Women’s Christian Association, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Marriage Promotion Fact Sheet , accessed 30 March 2005 , < www. ywca .org/atf/cf/%7B3B450FA5-
108B-4D2E-B3D0-C31487243E6A%7D/ TANF%

3 Richard Tolman and Jody Raphael, A Review of Research on Welfare and Domestic Violence , ( Michigan : University of Michigan and the Center for Impact Research, 2000) accessed 30 March 2005 , <

4 Heidi Sachs, "Domestic Violence as a Barrier to Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency," Welfare Information Network, Issue Notes, Vol. 3, No. 10 (December 1999).