Providing for Consideration of H.R. 890, Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and Tanf Extension Act of 2013by Representative Lloyd Doggett
Posted on 2013-03-13
DOGGETT. Mr. Speaker, as we continue very important efforts to
strengthen the middle class in America, I think it's important to
recognize that there are millions of Americans who would like to be
part of it, who are struggling at the bottom rungs of the economic
ladder hoping to work their way into the middle class. I think
that's where our focus should be, because in recent decades, we've seen
growing economic inequality in this country where a few have so much
and many have so very little.
One of the goals of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, initiative back in 1996 was to help those who wanted to climb the economic ladder. In hopes of accomplishing that, and valuing personally the importance of work, I voted for welfare reform. And if you evaluate it based on how many poor people it's denied assistance to, it's a great success. If, on the other hand, you evaluate it based on how many poor people it has helped to secure good, livable wages in long-term jobs, its success, at best, is very spotty.
Today's debate ought to be about how do we strengthen the effectiveness of TANF and related programs to assist more people in working their way into the middle class. But instead of focusing on lifting people up, like the previous temporary extension of TANF, this Republican effort is really about putting them down. It's about suggesting that the stereotype of the welfare Cadillac, of the aimless and the shiftless who don't want to work is real. Instead of a vision about an effective, long-term reauthorization of welfare to work, this bill represents the third time that Republicans have insisted on just a temporary, short-term extension of the same old programs.
The last time that we did this, Republicans included a firm prohibition and strong rhetoric about denying anyone using their electronic benefits at strip clubs or casinos. Who could object to that? But it's hardly central to how we advance these individuals who want to work.
This time it's the leftover Presidential campaign ploy arguing that the administration wanted to encourage more welfare loafing and idleness by weakening work requirements. Neither this bill nor its predecessors were truly about helping more people to secure jobs. They're about reinforcing the prejudice that many poor people are takers, not makers; that they're just eager to take somebody else's tax money and loaf.
Well, I believe that today's attempt to restrict State authority to strengthen welfare-to-work initiatives also totally contradicts what is happening at this very moment with a blockheaded Republican budget that would block-grant almost unbridled authority to the States to weaken health care. Because of the way that the TANF program is currently structured, whether this rule and this bill are approved is largely irrelevant to 99 percent of the working-age poor people in America today who are not currently participating in any of the TANF work activities.
I think we should do better by these folks. They want to become part of the middle class, but they find themselves in no job or a dead-end job. Instead of focusing on denying assistance to as many people as possible, we ought to be engaging in constructive, bipartisan discussion about what are the best ways to make the program effective to lift people up. Instead of focusing on waivers and simply waving good-bye to the many people in America who are economically disadvantaged and want a better opportunity, who want some hope to get out of poverty, let's try to do more to assist those people in more productive, long-term programs.