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Davis Opening Statement at Human Resources Subcommittee Hearing on Jobs and Opportunity

Over the course of this Congress, our Subcommittee has heard from a number of witnesses about approaches that are working to connect people with good jobs in our communities. 
 
The successful strategies had a number of things in common. 
 
Rather than threaten to cut off food, housing, or health care, they approached people with respect, and helped them overcome the structural barriers preventing them from getting good jobs. 
 
They measured their success in terms of the number of people they put on the road out of poverty, not in terms of the size of a pile of paperwork proving what those people did with every hour of every day. 
 
They helped people upgrade their skills and get work credentials. They provided supports like transportation and child care, so parents could work. 
 
The programs we heard from had something else in common. They did not get any support from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. That should be shocking, because one of TANF’s primary purposes is to help parents work and support their children. 
 
But it’s not surprising, because TANF focuses on requiring states to document exactly what activities people are engaged in, and penalizes them if too many are using their time to acquire skills or credentials. That’s a strong incentive to reduce the number of people who get TANF, but it’s not an incentive to help families get out of poverty.
 
We also know that TANF is providing far fewer resources to support poor children and their families than it was 20 years ago. The federal TANF grant has lost more than a third of its funding since TANF began in 1996, and states have diverted more than half of TANF funds to fill budget gaps, rather than serve TANF’s core purposes of supporting work, providing child care, and assisting poor families. Only one out of every five poor children gets help from TANF now, as compared to more than 60 percent who were helped 20 years ago.
 
We have just begun to review the detailed TANF proposals that the Chairman shared yesterday to understand how they would affect the poor children living with their parents and grandparents in our states and communities. Although there are provisions that I think make reasonable improvements to TANF, I am deeply concerned that the draft proposal creates clear winners and losers.  I am troubled that the pattern of winners and losers closely tracks that in the new tax law, including targeting my home state of Illinois and other blue states that will lose substantial federal funding. Further, the draft also permits states to reduce their spending on poor children and families, which seems like a step in the wrong direction given the already substantial decline in children in poverty being helped by TANF.  These dramatic cuts are especially distressing when put in the context of recent Republican proposals to cut $17 billion from food assistance, $8.8 billion from housing, and a trillion dollars from Medicaid, all harming poor families with children. 
 
Nearly three-fourths of current TANF recipients are children, usually living in poverty with their parents or grandparents. When we cut off TANF assistance, or never provide it, to parents and grandparents who don’t earn enough, the children in those families don’t have money to buy school supplies, or a safe place to live, or heat in the winter. 
 
Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” We have an opportunity to reform TANF to help parents make a living, but we should also remember our duty to support parents, grandparents and families in their effort to make a better life. Over the course of this Congress, our Subcommittee has heard from a number of witnesses about approaches that are working to connect people with good jobs in our communities. 
Over the course of this Congress, our Subcommittee has heard from a number of witnesses about approaches that are working to connect people with good jobs in our communities. 
 
Over the course of this Congress, our Subcommittee has heard from a number of witnesses about approaches that are working to connect people with good jobs in our communities. 
 
The successful strategies had a number of things in common. 
 
Rather than threaten to cut off food, housing, or health care, they approached people with respect, and helped them overcome the structural barriers preventing them from getting good jobs. 
 
They measured their success in terms of the number of people they put on the road out of poverty, not in terms of the size of a pile of paperwork proving what those people did with every hour of every day. 
 
They helped people upgrade their skills and get work credentials. They provided supports like transportation and child care, so parents could work. 
 
The programs we heard from had something else in common. They did not get any support from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. That should be shocking, because one of TANF’s primary purposes is to help parents work and support their children. 
 
But it’s not surprising, because TANF focuses on requiring states to document exactly what activities people are engaged in, and penalizes them if too many are using their time to acquire skills or credentials. That’s a strong incentive to reduce the number of people who get TANF, but it’s not an incentive to help families get out of poverty.
 
We also know that TANF is providing far fewer resources to support poor children and their families than it was 20 years ago. The federal TANF grant has lost more than a third of its funding since TANF began in 1996, and states have diverted more than half of TANF funds to fill budget gaps, rather than serve TANF’s core purposes of supporting work, providing child care, and assisting poor families. Only one out of every five poor children gets help from TANF now, as compared to more than 60 percent who were helped 20 years ago.
 
We have just begun to review the detailed TANF proposals that the Chairman shared yesterday to understand how they would affect the poor children living with their parents and grandparents in our states and communities. Although there are provisions that I think make reasonable improvements to TANF, I am deeply concerned that the draft proposal creates clear winners and losers.  I am troubled that the pattern of winners and losers closely tracks that in the new tax law, including targeting my home state of Illinois and other blue states that will lose substantial federal funding. Further, the draft also permits states to reduce their spending on poor children and families, which seems like a step in the wrong direction given the already substantial decline in children in poverty being helped by TANF.  These dramatic cuts are especially distressing when put in the context of recent Republican proposals to cut $17 billion from food assistance, $8.8 billion from housing, and a trillion dollars from Medicaid, all harming poor families with children. 
 
Nearly three-fourths of current TANF recipients are children, usually living in poverty with their parents or grandparents. When we cut off TANF assistance, or never provide it, to parents and grandparents who don’t earn enough, the children in those families don’t have money to buy school supplies, or a safe place to live, or heat in the winter. 
 
Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” We have an opportunity to reform TANF to help parents make a living, but we should also remember our duty to support parents, grandparents and families in their effort to make a better life. 
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    repName Danny K. Davis  
    helpWithFedAgencyAddress Chicago District Office
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    district 7th District of Illinois  
    academyUSCitizenDate July 1, 2017  
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