Welfare Reauthorization in the 109th Congress: An Overview
in the 109th Congress: An Overview
Updated January 23, 2007
Gene Falk, Melinda Gish, and Carmen Solomon-Fears
Specialists in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
in the 109th Congress: An Overview
Enactment of the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005 (P.L. 109-171, S. 1932)
on February 8, 2006 concluded a four-year saga of legislative attempts to reauthorize
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and related programs. The
original 1996 TANF law authorized five years of funding, through September 2002.
Between October 1, 2002 and the DRA’s passage, the program operated under a
series of 12 “temporary extension” measures. Efforts to pass comprehensive free-
standing welfare legislation during that period failed to reach fruition.
Instead, a scaled-back version of welfare reauthorization legislation was
ultimately included in broader budget spending reconciliation legislation. The DRA
of 2005 extends and maintains the basic TANF block grant at a funding level of
$16.5 billion annually through FY2010; increases the share of TANF families
required to participate in work activities; increases child care funding by $200
million per year over the FY2005 level of $2.7 billion, for FY2006-FY2010 (i.e., a
total increase of $1 billion); provides federal cost-sharing for child support passed
through to TANF and former TANF families, but prevents federal matching of child
support incentive payments reinvested in the program; provides up to $100 million
per year in demonstration grants for the promotion of “healthy marriages”; and
establishes $50 million per year for “responsible fatherhood” initiatives.
The Administration originally proposed its welfare reauthorization plan in
February 2002. The debate that ensued was dominated by controversy over child
care funding levels and the Administration’s proposed changes to TANF work
participation standards. The reauthorization debate also reflected a renewed focus
on noncustodial parents (usually fathers) and on family formation issues. The DRA
includes responsible fatherhood initiatives and a scaled-back version of the
President’s initiative to promote healthy marriages.
The DRA ultimately included the same child care funding increase that was
proposed in earlier House-passed welfare reauthorization measures in 2002 and 2003
($1 billion in additional mandatory child care funding over five years). In the 108th
Congress, legislation introduced in the Senate likewise proposed a $1 billion increase
over five years (down from the $5.5 billion increase approved by the Senate Finance
Committee in the 107th Congress); however, Senator Snowe led efforts pressing for
a larger increase. The bill approved by the 109th Congress’s Finance Committee (S.
However, S. 667 was one of the free-standing welfare measures that was not taken
up by the full Senate, and the child care funding increase was set at $1 billion in the
final passage of the DRA.
With respect to the work requirement issue, while the DRA requires states to
increase the share of their families participating in TANF work activities, it does not
include the Administration’s original proposal to set a 40-hour workweek standard
or revise the activities that count toward it. This marks the final version of this
report; it will not be updated.
Welfare Reauthorization Legislation...................................3
Funding the TANF and Child Care Block Grants.........................4
TANF Work Requirements..........................................8
1996 Law Work Participation Standard ............................8
Revisions to TANF Work Participation Standards....................9
Child Support Enforcement, Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives,
Abstinence Education, and Marriage Promotion.....................10
Child Support Enforcement.....................................11
Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives...............................13
List of Tables
Table 1. Economic and Social Indicators, Selected Years..................3
Table 2. Summary of Funding Provisions..............................5
in the 109 Congress: An Overview
On December 20, 2006, the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 was signed
into law (P.L. 109-432), continuing funding for the abstinence-only education block
grant (at an annual $50 million rate) and program authority for Transitional Medical
Assistance (TMA) through June 30, 2007. Earlier, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005
(P.L. 109-171, S. 1932), a budget spending reconciliation bill signed into law
February 8, 2006, included a scaled-back version of welfare reform reauthorization.
The act extended funding for the basic Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) block grant through FY2010, increased the percentage of TANF families
who will be required to participate in work or work activities, increased funding for
child care, revised the Child Support Enforcement program, and established healthy
marriage promotion grants and responsible fatherhood initiatives.
The 1996 welfare reform law (the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, P.L. 104-193) was a major piece of social
legislation, most known for ending the cash welfare entitlement for needy families
with children, creating the TANF block grant, setting a five-year time limit on aid,
and requiring more work from welfare recipients. The law also restructured child
care programs, combining programs for cash assistance recipients and other working
poor families; modified the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program; restricted
eligibility for noncitizens in various welfare programs; restricted eligibility for
disabled children in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program; and made
changes to the Food Stamp program.
The goals of welfare reform include reducing welfare dependency through work,
job preparation and marriage; reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and promoting
the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. TANF gives states a great
deal of latitude in designing their programs, resulting in each state having a different
program with a different story to tell. In their TANF-funded cash welfare programs,
many states tightened work rules, requiring applicants to search for work even before
being certified eligible for aid. Most states adopted tougher penalties on families
where a member refused to comply with work requirements. However, states also
adopted features that liberalized eligibility, particularly for families where recipients
went to work once on the rolls. For example, in most states families are allowed to
keep more of their welfare benefits as their earnings increase, have a car, and
accumulate more assets. Spending on child care has increased.
Table 1 shows various social and economic indicators for the post-welfare
reform period. The period following welfare reform saw the cash welfare caseload
plummet and child poverty rates drop to levels not seen since the 1970s.
Employment of single mothers increased dramatically. Progress was more muted,
or could be less tied to changes in policy, on a number of other fronts. The rate at
which teenagers gave birth declined, but that was a continuation of a trend that
became evident before the mid-1990s. The percent of children born out of wedlock
continued to increase, though at a rate slower than during previous periods. Further,
much of the progress occurred during the period 1995 to 2000. In 2001, the economy
entered a recession. National caseloads remained steady for the 2001-2004 period
(they had begun to decline again in 2005, which is not shown in the table).
Employment (in 2004) of single mothers is down from its historical high in 2000,
although is still higher than its 1995 level. The number of children living in families
headed by a married couple decreased slightly from 2000 to 2003. Child poverty1
rates increased again from 2000 to 2004.
Welfare dependency has been viewed as both a result of and a cause of chronic
poverty. Welfare caseloads and child poverty simultaneously declined during the late
1990s. However, the welfare caseload declined faster than child poverty, meaning
that cash welfare touches a smaller share of the poor than it did before welfare
reform. Further, despite the decline in welfare dependency, children are still more
likely to be poor than the elderly and nonaged adults, and out-of-wedlock births and
single parenthood remain at historical highs despite the halving of the cash welfare
1 For more discussion of these trends, see CRS Report RL32682, Children in Poverty:
Profile, Trends, and Issues, by Vee Burke, Thomas Gabe, and Gene Falk; and CRS Report
RL30797, Trends in Welfare, Work, and the Economic Well-Being of Female-Headed
Families with Children, 1987-2004, by Thomas Gabe.
Table 1. Economic and Social Indicators, Selected Years
Change (for rates,
change is shown)
1995 2000 2004 1995-2000 2000-2004
Cash welfare caseload (monthly188.8.131.52-2.5-0.1
average, millions of families)
Cash assistance spending (federal$21.9$11.2$10.4-$10.7-$0.8
and state, billions of $, fiscal years)
Child poverty rates20.2%15.6%17.3%-4.61.7
Related children in poverty14.011.012.5-3.01.5
( millio ns)
Employment of single mothers
Percent of single mothers employed64.0%75.5%72.0%11.6-3.5
Percent of single mothers with a52.5%69.1%63.8%16.6-5.3
child under age 6 employed.
General Economic Indicators
Employment (total nonfarm payrolls,117.3131.8131.514.5-0.3
Percent of children born out-of-32.2%33.2%35.8%1.02.6
Teen birth rate (per 1,000 female56.047.741.1-8.3-6.6
teens aged 15-19)
Percent of children living in married72.9%72.9%71.1%0.0-1.8
couple families (March of each year)
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Welfare Reauthorization Legislation
The original funding authority for TANF, mandatory child care, and state grants
for abstinence education provided in the 1996 welfare law expired at the end of
FY2002 (September 30, 2002). President Bush submitted his welfare reauthorization
proposals to Congress in February 2002. Though Congress debated welfare
legislation throughout the three years 2002 through 2004, no final action was takenthth
on a long-term reauthorization during the 107 and 108 Congresses. While
reauthorization legislation remained stalled, Congress passed measures to provide
stop-gap funding for the welfare programs, and such was the case through 2005. As
in previous years, efforts to pass comprehensive free-standing welfare legislation inth
the first session of the 109 Congress were unsuccessful. However, a scaled-back
version of welfare reauthorization legislation was ultimately included in broader
budget spending reconciliation legislation, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L.
2 For more discussion of the Deficit Reduction Act, see CRS Report RS22369, TANF, Child
Care, Marriage Promotion, and Responsible Fatherhood Provisions in the Deficit
In crafting the DRA (S. 1932/P.L. 109-171), only one of the chambers initially
included welfare reauthorization provisions in reconciliation legislation. The Senate-
passed version of S. 1932 contained no welfare-related provisions prior to
conference. The House, on the other hand, adopted as part of its initial budget
reconciliation bill select reauthorization proposals that had been approved earlier by
the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee and the Education and
Workforce Committee as part of H.R. 240, a welfare bill. Although the full Senate
had failed to act on welfare reauthorization legislation prior to assembling and
considering the DRA, early in the 109th Congress, the Senate Finance Committee did
approve a welfare reauthorization measure (S. 667).
Funding the TANF and Child Care Block Grants
The 1996 welfare law converted and consolidated several federal-state matching
grant programs into the TANF and child care block grants. Most TANF funding is
provided in a fixed, basic annual grant of $16.5 billion (50 states and D.C). This
amount represents the peak federal contribution made to pre-TANF programs in the
mid-1990s. The basic block grant is fixed; it neither increases nor decreases with
changes in the cash assistance caseload. Moreover, it is not adjusted for inflation.3
The child care block grant has two major parts: (1) discretionary funding, which is
determined in annual appropriations; and (2) mandatory funding, with appropriations
found in the 1996 welfare reform law. The 1996 law included gradual increases in
mandatory child care funding. Total child care funding has been essentially flat since4
Table 2 compares the TANF, child care, and Transitional Medicaid5 funding
provisions included in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 with the House-passed
reconciliation measure6, and S. 667 as reported from the Senate Finance Committee.7
Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171), by Gene Falk.
3 For more information on TANF funding, see CRS Report RL32748, The Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A Primer on Financing and
Requirements for State Programs, by Gene Falk.
4 For more information on the CCDBG, see CRS Report RL30785, The Child Care and
Development Block Grant: Background and Funding, by Melinda Gish.
5 For a discussion of Transitional Medicaid, see CRS Report RL31698, Transitional Medical
Assistance (TMA) Under Medicaid, by April Grady.
6 Most provisions in the House-passed reconciliation bill were identical to provisions in
H.R. 240 with some exceptions: the House-passed reconciliation bill proposed $0.5 billion
in additional child care funds over five years, whereas H.R. 240 proposed $1 billion; the
reconciliation bill eliminated all TANF bonuses, whereas H.R. 240 would have retained a
$100 million per year bonus for employment achievement; and the reconciliation bill had
$100 million per year for marriage promotion, whereas H.R. 240 proposed $200 million per
year. There were other differences between the House-passed reconciliation bill and H.R.
7 For a detailed comparison of these comprehensive welfare provisions, see CRS Report
As mentioned earlier, the Senate did not include comparable provisions in its
reconciliation measure prior to conference, nor did it pass a free-standing welfare bill
earlier in the session.
Table 2. Summary of Funding Provisions
S. 667 (as reported by
the Senate FinanceDeficit Reduction Act
House-Passed BudgetCommittee, of 2005 (as enacted,
Reconciliation BillS.Rept. 109-51)P.L. 109-171)
Basic TANF blockExtend basic TANFSame as the House-Same.
grantblock grant throughpassed budget
FY10 at current levelsreconciliation bill.
($16.5 billion per
Supplemental TANFExtend supplementalSame as HouseExtend supplemental
grantsgrants at $319 millionreconciliation bill.grants only through
per year through FY09FY08.
Marriage promotionFund $200 million perSame as HouseUp to $100 million per
grantsyear in marriagereconciliation bill. year in marriage
promotion grants. (Note: TANF bonusespromotion grants.
Reduce TANF bonusesare further reduced to(Another $50 million
from $300 million perpay for responsibleper year is set aside for
year to $100 millionfatherhood grants.)responsible fatherhood
per year.initiatives.) All TANF
bonuses ($300 million)
Mandatory child careProvide an additionalProvide an additionalProvide an additional
funding.$0.5 billion over five$6 billion over five$1 billion over five
years (FY2006-years (FY2006-years (FY2006-
FY2010).FY2010). The cost isFY2010).
partially offset by
changes to the earned
income tax credit
(EITC) and child tax
Transitional MedicalNo provision.Extend 12-month TMAExtend 12-month TMA
Assistance (TMA)for five years andfor one year (through
allow states to waiveDec. 31, 2006). P.L.
reporting requirements. 109-432 further
FY2005-FY2010 cost:extended TMA through
$4.2 billion.June 30, 2007.
Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).
RL33157, Welfare Reauthorization: A Side-By-Side Comparison of Current Law and
Pending Welfare Reauthorization Proposals, by Gene Falk, Melinda Gish, Carmen
Solomon-Fears, and Emilie Stoltzfus.
Note that while the basic TANF block grant is extended and maintained at the
annual amount of $16.5 billion until FY2010 under the DRA (P.L. 109-171), TANF
supplemental grants are extended for only three years. Further, previous welfare
reauthorization proposals had included $200 million per year in grants for healthy
marriage promotion — $100 million per year for matching grants to states and tribes
and a second $100 million per year in research and demonstration funding controlled
by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Deficit Reduction Act
scales back funding for healthy marriage promotion to $100 million in research and
demonstration funding. An additional $50 million in mandatory funding is for
responsible fatherhood initiatives. All existing TANF bonuses — a High
Performance Bonus based on states’ progress toward meeting the block grant’s goals
($200 million per year) and a bonus for reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies ($100
million per year) — are eliminated.
The level of mandatory child care funding has been a contentious point of
debate over the past four years. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has
estimated that to maintain the current level of child care subsidies over the five years
covered by the DRA — that is, to maintain current child care caseloads and average
subsidy levels and keep pace with inflation — a total of $4.8 billion in extra federal
or state funds would be needed. The current child care caseload includes families on
the cash welfare rolls, as well as other low-income working families. In FY2001,
only one in five families aided by the child care block grant received TANF cash
assistance — the other four families were either former TANF families (in the
transition from welfare to work) or were working poor families without a connection
to the cash welfare program.
The Deficit Reduction Act includes an increase of $200 million per year (from
$2.717 billion to $2.917 billion per year) in federal mandatory child care funding, or
a total increase of $1 billion over five years. The increase reflects twice that
proposed earlier in the House-passed budget reconciliation bill ($0.5 billion),
mirroring the funding level passed by the House in welfare reauthorization measures
of both 2002 and 2003. The $1 billion increase stands in contrast to the proposed
increase of $6 billion over five years included in the bill reported out of the Senate
Finance Committee early in 2005 (S. 667).8
The Deficit Reduction Act’s $1 billion in additional federal child care funds
requires state matching. This “leverages” some additional state dollars for each new
federal child care dollar. If states draw down the full $1 billion, approximately $0.8
billion in state child care funds will also be expended, bringing the total new federal
and state spending for the child care block grant to about $1.8 billion.
8 In 2003, the Senate Finance Committee approved a welfare reauthorization bill (H.R. 4)
that included $1 billion in additional child care funding. However, during the committee
mark-up of that legislation, Senator Snowe shared her intent to offer an amendment for a
greater child care funding increase if and when the bill was brought to the Senate floor. In
March of 2004, H.R. 4 did indeed reach the Senate floor for debate, and Senator Snowe’s
amendment to provide an additional $6 billion in child care funding (above the $1 billion
already included in the underlying H.R. 4) was offered and approved by a vote of 78-20.
However, following the vote on the amendment, the Senate failed to resume considerationth
of H.R. 4 for the remainder of the 108 Congress.
However, the $1.8 billion in total new federal and state child care funds is
estimated to be insufficient to maintain current caseloads and average child care
subsidies, and to keep pace with inflation as projected by the CBO. In addition, the
Deficit Reduction Act has TANF work provisions (see below) that, beginning in
FY2007, are likely to substantially increase the share of TANF families that will be
required to work or participate in job readiness activities. This, too, is likely to
increase the demand for child care subsidies.
The child care and TANF block grants do not entitle families to child care
subsidies. Therefore, states could respond in a number of different ways (or
combination of ways) to inflationary pressures and the likely increase in the demand
for child care subsidies caused by stricter TANF work participation requirements:
!Increase funding from other sources, particularly TANF.
TANF has been a major contributor of child care funds, the second-
largest spending category next to cash assistance within TANF.
States could allocate more TANF spending to child care. However,
a number of factors are likely to limit TANF’s ability to contribute
more child care funds, specifically: (1) the block grant will remain
frozen at the same levels as it was in FY1997 ($16.5 billion) and
inflation continues to erode the purchasing power of those dollars;
(2) the DRA will have the likely effect of increasing the percentage
of TANF families that will have to participate in work activities,
increasing the TANF work costs in addition to child care costs; and
(3) allocating additional funding to child care would mean cutting
back on other initiatives that have been funded with TANF dollars,
for instance TANF’s contribution to funding child welfare benefits
and services for children who have been subject to, or are at risk of,
abuse, neglect, or family breakup.
!Target more child care dollars to families receiving cash
assistance. As discussed above, in FY2001 only one in five families
receiving subsidies under the child care block grant received cash
assistance. To meet the higher child care costs due to the increase in
TANF work participation standards, states could target more child
care dollars to families on TANF assistance, reducing spending on
subsidies for other low-income (“working poor”) families.
!Restructure child care subsidies to reduce their average costs.
Under both block grants, states determine subsidy levels and how
much a family has to contribute from their own income (co-
payments). These rules can be restructured to reduce the average
child care subsidy per family.
TANF Work Requirements
TANF requires states to run “mandatory” work and job preparation programs,
setting participation requirements and sanctioning families (reducing or ending
benefits) that do not comply with them. Mandatory participation requirements can
help achieve a number of different policy objectives, including the following:
!Enforcing the notion that recipients are obligated to support their
families through work; that is, they must “do something” in
exchange for their benefits;
!Having recipients engage in activities that will enhance their ability
to compete in the labor market and ultimately leave welfare for
!Deterring those who have other means of support (e.g., those already
working but not reporting income to the welfare office or
participating in the underground economy) from applying and
Most states have generally adopted a “work-first” approach to implementing
their programs, emphasizing rapid entry into the labor force through up-front job
search. Evaluations of such programs indicate that they do increase employment and
reduce welfare receipt. However, these programs have generally not been found to
raise the incomes of participants. Further, TANF data show that participation in
activities is not universal. In FY2004, states reported that of about 1.4 million adult
recipients of cash assistance, 57% were not working or in a job preparation activity
for a month. (Note that these adults are not reported in an activity. States may
underreport activity that is not countable toward TANF work participation standards.)
1996 Law Work Participation Standard
Nominally, the 1996 TANF law set a participation standard that requires 50%
of families with an adult to be engaged in work. A separate standard of 90% applies
to the two-parent component of the caseload. However, the actual participation
standards states face are usually far lower than the nominal participation standards.
TANF law provides a “caseload reduction credit,” which reduces the 50% standard
by one percentage point for each percent decline in the cash assistance caseload that
occurred since FY1995 (pre-welfare reform). Many states have had large caseload
declines, and in FY2004 there were 19 states with declines of 50% or more, reducing
the effective (after credit) standard to 0%. On average, the FY2004 national work
participation rate was 32%.9
The large caseload reduction credits have lessened the impact of the
participation standards. They have allowed states to have more participants in
“noncreditable” activities (e.g., education) and perhaps led to lower overall
9 For more information on TANF see CRS Report RL32760, The Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions, by Gene
Revisions to TANF Work Participation Standards
The 2002 Bush Administration welfare reauthorization proposals envisioned a
substantial rewrite of the TANF work participation standards. The participation
standard would have been raised from 50% to 70%; the caseload reduction credit
would have been replaced with a credit for employed welfare leavers; families would
have had to participate 40 hours per week; and, except for a three month period
allowed for recipients to focus solely on job search and short-term training, a
minimum of 24 hours per week in work or workfare would have been required for
states to receive credit for a family’s participation.
The House passed a slightly modified version of the Administration’s work
proposal three times — in 2002, 2003, and in the House-passed version of the budget
reconciliation bill in 2005. Three times (in 2002, 2003, and S. 667 in 2005) the
Senate Finance Committee reported different modifications to the work rules, though
none of these proposals passed the full Senate. The Finance Committee approach
was to generally expand the activities that count toward the participation standards,
in part by increasing the amount of education that would have been countable under
TANF work standards.
The Deficit Reduction Act does not overhaul TANF work participation
standards. It retains the current 50% and 90% standards, current rules for the
minimum hours that count toward the participation standard, and current list of
activities that are creditable for work participation. However, the Deficit Reduction
Act makes the following changes:
!The caseload reduction credit is revised, so that work
participation standards are reduced only for caseload reductions
that occur from FY2005 into the future. This is effective
beginning in FY2007. Thus, absent further caseload declines, a state
will face a 50% TANF work participation standard in contrast to the
much reduced standards they would have faced under prior law.
!Will count families in state-funded “Separate State Programs”
(SSPs) in the work participation rate calculation. Under current
law, states may assist TANF-like families in state-funded programs,
and count spending in those programs toward the TANF state
spending requirement (known as the “maintenance of effort” or
MOE). Families in SSPs are not counted in the work participation
rates. The DRA provides that, beginning in FY2007, families in
SSPs are to be included in the participation rate calculation. This
prevents states from increasing their participation rate simply by
moving nonparticipating families into SSPs.
!Requires HHS to develop regulations to define work activities
and standards for verifying work participation. A 2005
Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the lack
of uniformity in work definitions and procedures for verifying
participation means “there is no standard basis for interpreting
states’ [work participation] rates, and the rates cannot effectively be
used to assess and compare states’ performance.”10 The DRA
requires HHS to define TANF work activities, types of families that
are subject to work requirements, and standards for verifying worker
participation. HHS issued these regulations on June 29, 2006.11 The
regulations define each of the 12 TANF work activities12; require
that activities be supervised (for education and training, often on a
daily basis); exempt families where an adult must care for a disabled
member from the work requirements, but include families with a
sanctioned adult or one removed from the assistance “case” because
of a state time limit in the participation rate calculation; and require
states to submit plans for verifying work activities.
These changes are likely to increase required participation standards
significantly for states. The national average work participation rate in FY2004 was
32% — so requiring 50% of families to participate requires states to significantly
boost their participation.13
Child Support Enforcement,
Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives,
Abstinence Education, and Marriage Promotion
In 2004, children in families headed by a single mother had a poverty rate of
41.9%, compared with a rate of 8.9% for children in families headed by a married
couple. The majority of poor children (in 2004, 57.2% of all poor children in
families) live in families headed by a single mother. Welfare-to-work initiatives have
focused on getting such single mothers into the workforce. While there has been a
sharp increase in work among single mothers, many single mothers and their children
remain poor. The fifth annual TANF report states “welfare reform has been very
successful at getting a significant portion of cases into the workplace and into second
and sometimes third jobs, but it has been less effective in keeping them employed full-
time and in achieving substantial wage or career growth.” The sixth annual TANF
report indicates that in FY2002 the average monthly earnings of TANF recipients
who were employed was $678 or $8,136 per year (the poverty level for a three-person
family in 2002 was $1,196 per month or $14,348 for the year). Child support
payments are now recognized as a very significant income source for single-parent
10 United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-05-821, Welfare Reform: HHS
Should Exercise Oversight to Help Ensure TANF Work Participation is Measured
Consistently Across States, Aug. 2005.
11 See Federal Register, vol 71, no. 125, June 29, 2006. pp. 37454-37483.
12 For a description of these definitions, see CRS Report RS22490 TANF: A Guide to the
New Definitions of What Counts As Work Participation, by Gene Falk.
13 Further, work participation rates varied greatly among the states; some states will have to
increase their participation rates more than others. See FY2004 work participation data at
[ ht t p: / / www.acf .hhs.gov/ pr ogr ams/ of a/ par t i c i p/ i ndexpar t i c i p.ht m#2004] .
Increasingly, attention has focused on the role of the noncustodial parent,
usually the father, in the economic support and development of his children.
Research has shown that low-income fathers tend to face some of the same issues as
do low-income mothers, such as being very likely to work intermittently and/or in
low-wage jobs, thereby limiting their ability to help support their children. These
findings, together with a growing sentiment that noncustodial fathers are more likely
to be “dead broke” than “deadbeats,” have fostered a more sympathetic view of
noncustodial fathers. Beginning in 1996, Congress has considered bills that would
specifically authorize funding for programs designed to help noncustodial fathers
meet both their financial and emotional responsibilities to their children (also
including components related to marriage promotion and effective parenting). These
programs are generally referred to as “responsible fatherhood” programs.
In recognition of the often negative, long-term consequences associated with
teenage pregnancy, Congress has provided funding for the prevention of teenage and
out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Reducing nonmarital pregnancy, especially among
teenagers, was an important focus of the 1996 welfare law. In recent years, funding
has shifted toward abstinence education rather than comprehensive sexual education
as the preferred way to reduce teenage pregnancy. The 109th Congress continued the
debate on which approach is more effective.
The goals of welfare reform include reducing welfare dependency through work,
job preparation and marriage; reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and promoting
the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. Although the 1996 welfare
reform law did reflect a new interest in marriage for welfare families, most of the
policy changes implemented after the 1996 law focused almost exclusively on
encouraging work and did not directly address the marriage goals. The Deficit
Reduction Act specifically includes funding for programs exclusively designed to
promote marriage among low-income persons, which is seen by its supporters as a
way to improve the economic well-being and development of children.
Child Support Enforcement
Though much of the media focus on welfare reform in the mid-1990s was on
TANF and its work and time limit requirements, the Child Support Enforcement
(CSE) program has also been undergoing change.14 The CSE program began in 1975
as a program to collect child support from the noncustodial parents of children on
welfare. If the child support collected on behalf of the welfare family was
insufficient to lift the family’s income above the state’s cash welfare eligibility limit
the family received the welfare cash benefit and the child support payment was
distributed to reimburse the state and federal government for cash welfare costs in
proportion to their assistance to the family. If, however, the welfare family’s income,
including the child support payment, exceeded the state’s welfare cash benefit
standard, the family’s cash welfare benefits were ended and the family received the
entire amount of child support collected on their behalf. In addition to cost-recovery
efforts with regard to welfare families, the CSE program has always collected child
14 See CRS Report RS22380, Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics, by Carmen
support on behalf of nonwelfare families in an effort to prevent them from coming
onto the welfare rolls. Over time, the CSE program has evolved from a program
whose primary focus was cost-recovery to a program that is focusing on service
In FY2005, a total of $23 billion was collected in child support (this is more
than twice as much as FY2004 cash assistance), with a little less than half (45%)
collected on behalf of families with no current or prior connection to the welfare
system. The $23 billion collected in FY2005 was nearly double pre-welfare reform
CSE collections. Though the increase in child support collections shows some
progress in getting noncustodial parents to help support their children, collections
totaled only 18% of the total obligations in support orders in the CSE program.
According to an Urban Institute study, on average child support constitutes 17% of
family income for households that receive it. For poverty-level children whose
families do not receive TANF, child support constitutes about 30% of family income.
The 1996 welfare reform law established several new enforcement collection
mechanisms to obtain child support from noncustodial parents and created an array
of database systems of wage and employment information to find parents delinquent
in their payments. The law also revised rules so as to pay more child support
collected on behalf of former welfare families to the family.
The Deficit Reduction Act provides financial incentives to states that send more
child support collected on behalf of families on welfare to the family itself (rather
than retained as reimbursement for welfare costs). Under the new law, the federal
government will pay for a share of support passed-through to welfare families as long
as that support does not reduce the family’s welfare benefit. Specifically, P.L. 109-
171 allows states to pay up to $100 per month in child support collected on behalf of
a TANF (or foster care) family ($200 per month to a family with two or more
children) to the family and not require the state to pay the federal government the
federal share of those payments. The measure also gives states financing incentives
to send to former welfare families the full amount of child support collected on their
behalf (i.e., both current support and pre- and post-welfare arrearages — including
child support arrearages collected through the federal income tax refund offset
program). In addition, it revises some child support enforcement collection
mechanisms and adds others.
The Deficit Reduction Act includes provisions that (1) establish a $25 annual
user fee for individuals who have never been on TANF but receive CSE services and
who received at least $500 in any given year, (2) reduce the CSE federal matching
rate for the laboratory costs associated with establishing paternity from 90% to 66%,
and (3) eliminate the federal match on CSE incentive payments that states, in
compliance with federal law, reinvest back into the CSE program. (A House-passed
provision to gradually reduce (from FY2007-FY2010) the federal matching rate for
child support program expenditures from its current level of 66% to 50% is not
included in the final bill.)15
15 For more discussion of these provisions, see CRS Report RS22377, Child Support
Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives
Enforcement of child support orders is only one dimension of current efforts to
connect noncustodial parents (usually fathers) with their children. In the hopes of
improving the lives of children living in single-parent families, government and
public and private organizations support programs to promote the financial and
personal responsibility of noncustodial parents, which have become known as
“responsible fatherhood” programs.
Research has recognized that low-income noncustodial fathers have similar
problems in the workforce as do single mothers — low wages and intermittent
employment. Some responsible fatherhood programs focus on employment skills,
in part to help noncustodial parents meet their child support obligations. In addition,
responsible fatherhood programs generally teach a variety of social skills, including
parenting education, responsible decision-making, conflict resolution, coping with
stress, and appropriate disciplinary practices. Responsible fatherhood programs also
usually provide a peer support component. Some programs also include funding for
media campaigns to advertise to the public the importance of emotional, physical,
psychological, and financial connections of fathers to their children.
The TANF block grant is one potential source of funding for responsible
fatherhood initiatives. Moreover, welfare reauthorization bills would have
established categorical competitive grants, ranging from $20 million to $76 million
per year, to community and faith-based organizations for responsible fatherhood
initiatives.16 The Deficit Reduction Act includes competitive grants of $50 million
per year for five years in competitive grants to states, territories, Indian tribes and
tribal organizations, and public and nonprofit organizations, including religious
organizations, for responsible fatherhood initiatives.
Currently, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) provides
$1.5 million annually to fund Responsible Fatherhood demonstrations under Section
1115 of the Social Security Act. Projects are presently being funded in the following
eight states: California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New
Hampshire, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Teenage pregnancy and nonmarital births were central issues in the 1996 welfare
reform debate. The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births
among the industrialized countries. One 1996 study found that 40% of young women
become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20. Most research
indicates that at least 80% of these pregnancies are unintended.
Provisions in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171), by Carmen Solomon-Fears.
16 See CRS Report RL31025, Fatherhood Initiatives: Connecting Fathers to Their
Children, by Carmen Solomon-Fears.
The 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193, Section 510 of the Social Security
Act) provided $50 million per year for five years, FY1998-FY2002, in federal funds
for an abstinence education formula block grant program. Since FY2003, the
abstinence-only block grant has been funded through temporary, short-term
extensions. Funds must be requested by states when they solicit Maternal and Child
Health (MCH) block grant funds, and must be used exclusively for the teaching of
abstinence. To receive federal funding, a state must match every $4 in federal funds
with $3 in state funds. Although both the House and Senate welfare reauthorization
bills (H.R. 240 and S. 667) proposed to authorize and appropriate funding for the
abstinence-only education block grant program through FY2010, the Deficit
Reduction Act appropriated funding for the program (at the same annual level) only
through December 31, 2006. P.L. 109-432 (the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of
2006) continues funding for the abstinence-only education block grant (at an annual
$50 million rate) through June 30, 2007.
To ensure that the abstinence-only message is not diluted, the law stipulated that
the term “abstinence education” means an educational or motivational program that
teaches — (1) the social, psychological, and health gains of abstaining from sexual
activity; (2) abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected
standard for all school-age children; (3) abstinence is the only certain way to avoid
out-of-wedlock pregnancy, STDs, and associated health problems; (4) a mutually
faithful monogamous relationship within marriage is the expected standard of human
sexual activity; (5) sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful
psychological and physical effects; (6) bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to
have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society; (7) young
people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases
vulnerability to sexual advances; and (8) the importance of attaining self-sufficiency
before engaging in sex.
Beginning with FY2001, several appropriation bills have included funding for
abstinence-only education, in addition to the abstinence education block grant
program. This funding was provided through HHS via the Special Projects of
Regional and National Significance (SPRANS) program for abstinence education to
bolster the abstinence-only message for adolescents aged 12 through 18; these
projects are now generally referred to as the community-based abstinence education
program. Funding for the community-based abstinence education program
amounted to $20 million in FY2001, $40 million in FY2002, $55 million in FY2003,
$70 million in FY2004, $100 million in FY2005, and $110 million in FY2006. In
addition, the Adolescent Family Life (AFL) program (enacted in 1981 by P.L. 97-35)
provides funding for matters related to adolescent sexuality, pregnancy, and
parenting. Funding for abstinence-only education under the AFL program amounted
to $9 million in FY2001, $10 million in FY2002-FY2004, and $13 million in
FY2005 and FY2006.
The debate over whether teens should be given the unambiguous and exclusive
message that sex outside of marriage is wrong, or a more comprehensive message
that tells teenagers that they should not engage in sexual activities, but if they do they
should practice “safe sex,” is very controversial. Advocates of the more
comprehensive approach to sex education argue that today’s youth need information
and decision-making skills to make realistic and practical decisions about whether
to engage in sexual activities. They contend that such an approach allows young
people to make informed decisions regarding abstinence, gives them the information
they need to set relationship limits and to resist peer pressure, and also provides them
with information on the use of contraceptives and the prevention of sexually
transmitted diseases. Advocates of the abstinence education approach argue that
teenagers need to hear a single, unambiguous message that sex outside of marriage
is wrong and harmful to their physical and emotional health. They contend that youth
can and should be empowered to say no to sex. They argue that supporting both
abstinence and birth control is hypocritical and undermines the strength of an
Research indicates that children in families headed by both of their biological
parents “do better” on an array of child development outcomes (higher academic
achievement, lower teenage child bearing, lower levels of delinquency, etc.) than
children living in single-parent families. Much of this is due to the lower incomes
of children in single-parent families, but the statistical association between family
type and child outcomes holds even when considering families of equivalent
incomes. However, in a note of caution, these better outcomes hold only when a
child lives with both of his or her biological parents — they do not apply to
stepchildren. Further, there are concerns about promoting marriage when some
relationships are violent. Additionally, there is the caveat to interpreting social
science research that “correlation does not equal causation.” The actual cause of the
difference in child outcomes could be differences in characteristics and behaviors
(some not observed for purposes of statistical study) associated with married versus
The Administration is currently funding research to address the question of
whether marriage promotion programs could achieve their goals. HHS is currently
conducting large-scale research projects to evaluate the impact of marriage
promotion. Actual findings regarding the impacts of these programs are several years
away. The Deficit Reduction Act provides up to $100 million in funding for each of
five years (FY2006 through FY2010) for marriage promotion research and
demonstration projects. Additionally it would provide $50 million per year for
responsible fatherhood programs (as described earlier under Responsible Fatherhood
17 For more information, see CRS Report RS20873, Reducing Teen Pregnancy: Adolescent
Family Life and Abstinence Education Programs, by Carmen Solomon-Fears.
Blank, Rebecca, and Ron Haskins. The New World of Welfare. Brookings
Institution Press, 2001.
DeParle, Jason. American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive
to End Welfare. Viking Press, 2004.
Duncan, Greg J., and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, ed. Consequences of Growing Up Poor.
Russell Sage Foundation, 1997.
CRS Report RL32817, Child Care Issues in the 109th Congress, by Melinda Gish.
CRS Report RS22380, Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics, by Carmen
CRS Report RS22377, Child Support Provisions in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005
(P.L. 109-171), by Carmen Solomon-Fears.
CRS Report RL32682, Children in Poverty: Profile, Trends, and Issues, by Vee
Burke, Tom Gabe, and Gene Falk.
CRS Report RL31025, Fatherhood Initiatives: Connecting Fathers to Their
Children, by Carmen Solomon-Fears.
CRS Report RL31698, Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA) Under Medicaid, by
CRS Report RL30797, Trends in Welfare, Work, and the Economic Well-Being of
Female-Headed Families with Children, 1987-2004, by Thomas Gabe.
CRS Report RL33157, Welfare Reauthorization: A Side-by-Side Comparison of
Current Law and Pending Welfare Reauthorization Proposals, by Gene Falk,
Melinda Gish, Carmen Solomon-Fears, and Emilie Stoltzfus.
McLanahan, Sara, and Gary Sandefur. Growing Up with a Single Parent: What
Hurts, What Helps. Harvard University Press, 1994.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Final Synthesis Reporting of
Findings from ASPE’s “Leavers” Grants, 2001, at
[ h t t p ://www.urban.org/ UploadedPDF/ 410809_wel fare_l eavers _ s ynt hes i s .pdf] .
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education.
National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies: How Effective Are Different
Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven
Programs, 2001, at [http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/NEWWS/5yr-11prog01/].
United States Government Accountability Office. GAO-06-414. Better Information
Needed to Understand Trends in States’ Uses of the TANF Block Grant. March,
— GAO-05-821. Welfare Reform: HHS Should Exercise Oversight to Help Ensure
TANF Work Participation is Measured Consistently Across States. August