Nation's Governors Blast House Committee
By Stateline Staff
A U.S. House Committee has pared down the funds used by states for welfare reform by $3 billion and the Governors and state lawmakers are steaming mad.
The National Governors Association shot off a letter to the House leadership, charging agreements made between Washington and the states on a number of priority state-federal partnership programs have been violated. The Governors say they are, "adamantly and unanimously opposed to the severe cuts in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for the year 2000."
The bill is scheduled for markup by a subcommittee of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Committee on Thursday morning.
"We have fought this in the past and have successfully fought it back a couple times," Gretchen Odegard, policy analyst for the NGA explains, "If it is to go any further beyond subcommittee and markup it sets a dangerous precedent about Congress's commitment to the Governors. The Governors believe this is an issue of trust and about making commitments and standing by them. "The welfare reform agreement that converted the program from an entitlement to a block grant gave states flexibility in spending and guaranteed TANF funding for five years.
"Regardless of how the accounting is explained, the proposed changes would affect valuable programs to assist families for which states have already committed funds," Governors Michael Leavitt of Utah, John Engler of Michigan, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Mel Carnahan of Missouri, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Paris Glendening of Maryland wrote.
The governors say that any cuts would undermine state programs to move families off welfare and into the workforce.
"States see things long-range, they look ahead to an overall vision of welfare reform and not a piecemeal, year-by-year effort," Odegard said.
Current policy calls for the states to continue to contribute 75 to 80 percent of what welfare cost their state in 1994, notwithstanding the 40 per cent reduction in the welfare rolls. The effect is to freeze state spending at the same level. Once a state fully funds the program, and only then, can they spend money from the TANF funds or from Washington.
The agreement allows states to carry over any unspent TANF funds from year to year. Unspent TANF funds are held in the U.S. Treasury where they have become a target for cuts.
But, Odegard says the Governors need to count on stability. "The notion that there are unobligated dollars dates back to December and we are confident that many more of those dollars have been obligated since."
Questions regarding the letter were referred to the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-Ohio). But numerous calls to his spokesperson by stateline.org were not returned.