Top Finance GOP, Dem Agree: 1990s Welfare Reforms Aren't Working

Clear issues exist within the TANF program, Hatch said, but earlier efforts to address the problems have proved unsuccessful, once as a result of a Democratic filibuster. And he criticized the Obama administration for failing to address the ongoing problem.

“Several years ago, I wrote a letter to President Obama indicating my willingness and desire to work with him on welfare reform,” Hatch said. “That letter has never been answered. What is more, the Obama Administration has never put forward a proposal to reauthorize TANF. Instead, this administration has attempted to bypass the Congress and create regulatory schemes not authorized under the statute in order to undermine key features of welfare reform, including the work requirement and child support enforcement.”

Recipients, he said, “have become just another pawn in the endless partisan conflict between the Obama Administration and Republicans in Congress.”

“This is unfortunate and it is precisely the reason why so many people are skeptical about any progress being made on poverty and welfare in the near future,” Hatch said. “Unfortunately, until the administration adopts a different posture with regard to these programs, I’m afraid that this skepticism will continue to be well-founded.”

Regardless, Hatch asserted “we do things differently here on the Senate Finance Committee” and he believes that “we need to continue to explore issues associated with poverty and keep searching for ways to improve welfare in this country.”

Testifying before the committee, Pamela Loprest, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told lawmakers that the TANF program is “increasingly playing a smaller role in addressing poverty, even for the most needy.”

“While TANF caseloads have fallen by 30 percent in the last fifteen years, the percentage of families in poverty has grown,” she said. “Many eligible poor families do not receive these benefits.”

Loprest also noted that many poor mothers who are not receiving TANF are also not working and that they face challenges to getting a job, including low education levels and poor health.

To address the problems, Loprest said, lawmakers should improve access to TANF “so it serves the population it is intended to serve” and invest in mothers who find themselves in poverty to improve their job skills and, therefore, their opportunities.

“For poor women without work, our work-based safety net is of limited assistance,” she said. “Investing in ways to improve the work prospects of poor single mothers, through the TANF program and other publicly-funded workforce programs, is an important goal. Improving access to TANF for those poor mothers who are eligible and without work is another important goal.”