By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Welfare beneficiaries would have to work or get job training under legislation approved by a U.S. Congress committee on Thursday, part of a broader Republican effort to impose work rules on Americans getting public assistance.
The House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines to approve the changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides federal block grants to states for cash aid for needy families.
The Republican proposal will go next to the House floor for a vote. If approved there, it would go to the Senate, where its outlook is uncertain because of Democratic opposition.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but only have a narrow majority in the Senate.
Last year, the TANF program assisted 1.1 million families. It has an annual budget of about $16.5 billion, which Republican President Donald Trump has proposed cutting.
The legislation aligns with other Trump administration and congressional Republican attempts to rein in spending on social programs. It would require all work-eligible TANF beneficiaries to work or do job training or community service, instead of just 50 percent of them, as is the rule under current law.
“States are going to have to engage everyone who is work eligible with a game plan,” said committee chairman Kevin Brady.
Under the legislation, states failing to meet program targets could be penalized by federal funding cuts. The bill would fund the program for five years at current levels, aides said.
Democrats said childcare provisions and the program overall were insufficient. TANF funding has not increased for two decades, not even for inflation, since it was adjusted under then-president Bill Clinton, a Democrat. It has lost over one-third of its value over time.
“Could it be that Republicans aren’t interested in helping people succeed, but just want to advance an extreme ideological agenda?” asked Democratic Representative Joe Crowley. “That’s what’s really going on here.”
Another piece of Republican legislation pending in the House would impose tighter work requirements on recipients of food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The Trump administration has also taken steps to push public health and house assistance recipients into work. It is allowing states to require that Medicaid recipients work as a condition of receiving health insurance. Last month, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also proposed encouraging those receiving housing subsidies to work.