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Public Statements

Tax Extenders Act of 2009--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KERRY. I thank the chairman of the Finance Committee and the manager of this bill.

I wanted to take just a few moments to talk about an amendment I have filed to extend the TANF emergency fund; that is, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Fund. I hope I can work with the majority leader, who is already working with us to work through some of the difficulties in terms of the overall funding levels, to hopefully have a vote on this at the earliest possible time.

We have the opportunity to extend a proven program that provides genuinely desperately needed assistance to the Nation's poorest families and their children, the people who are the most vulnerable to an economic downturn. I am joined by Senator Specter in offering this amendment to extend the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Fund, the TANF as we call it, the emergency contingency fund, which was included in last year's economic stimulus legislation.

I am glad to say this policy is supported by Majority Leader Reid, by Chairman Baucus, Senator Schumer, Senator Feinstein, Senator Specter, and others. It is my understanding this amendment is fully offset. Senate Finance Chairman Baucus and Majority Leader Reid have been integral to the development of this amendment. I am very grateful to them and their staff for the assistance they have given us and for their help on this important issue.

This is not the moment in our economic recovery effort to walk away from the neediest families in the country, from a successful program that has bolstered the safety net and created jobs for the unemployed. What my amendment does is simply extend a program that is already working, and working effectively. It extends a program that was specifically put into the economic stimulus package because it is so critical, so sustaining in support for these neediest families at a level where it is even harder to get jobs and break back into the recovery.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 30 States are currently using TANF emergency funds to create subsidized jobs. By this summer, these programs are going to have provided subsidies for more than 100,000 jobs. That number could grow substantially with more time and more money.

Let me just share with colleagues sort of the breadth of these kinds of things, some of the examples of the job placements that have been made and created by the TANF emergency fund range from administrative jobs: project management secretary, legal secretary, data entry clerks, merchandise listers, dispatchers, marketing sales, and so forth; construction: painters, laborers, installers, land development, general laborers, surveyors, and so forth; customer service: porters, cashiers, housekeeping, front desk clerks; food service: restaurant managers, catering managers, food preparation, food delivery; health care: medical billing, medical record clerk, receptionist, and so forth. There are maintenance jobs, production jobs, human service positions. It covers the full range of the American economy, and it makes a difference in communities to people's, literally sustainability, and to families being able to hold together and stick together.

Some States are using the TANF fund to extensively help offset higher basic assistance costs and to extend a variety of short-term emergency aid to struggling families, such as heating assistance, housing assistance, domestic violence services, and transportation help.

This amendment maintains the current policy of reimbursing States for 80 cents on every dollar spent on subsidized employment or basic assistance or short-term or emergency aid.

The amendment aids a fourth category of programs that can receive emergency funds, and those are work programs. As families continue to struggle to find jobs with the high unemployment that we are facing, this category has been added in order to give States new options for bolstering employment and job preparation.

Finally, this amendment would provide States with a maximum allocation for fiscal year 2011 equal to 25 percent of the State's annual TANF block grant.

I am pleased to say that Massachusetts has been one of the top five States in using these emergency funds. We have currently used 65 percent of our available funds. It does not mean we are using someone else's funds; those are the funds available to us. But it shows you that where the need is important and necessary what a difference it makes.

We are on track to draw down 100 percent of the emergency funds that are allowed under the Recovery Act by September of this year. We are using this fund to maintain key existing safety net programs for cash assistance, emergency housing, rental vouchers, job programs, and family services. This basic assistance helps the economy because the families receiving it spend virtually every cent of it in their local economy to immediately meet their basic needs.

A 1-year extension of the TANF emergency fund could provide us with an additional $60 to $108 million to accommodate the 10-percent TANF caseload increase we have seen since the start of the recession. I believe this is a fundamental continuation of the social contract that exists in this country where we have all come to understand that communities are sustained, an enormous difference is made in the lives of children particularly but in families, the neediest families in our country, many of whom have the hardest time finding jobs because they are at the bottom end of the entry level of job levels in many cases, and those are the jobs that have been lost the fastest and the quickest and they are the slowest to come back in many cases.

I am pleased to say this legislation is supported in a bipartisan way from bipartisan organizations, including the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislators, the American Public Human Services Association, and the National Association of State TANF Administrators.

This fund has caused both direct job creation and has provided an enormous amount of necessary activity in local communities. A vote against this amendment would leave an awful lot of folks unemployed, low-income parents without work opportunities or without the vital assistance of basic necessities. I hope all colleagues will support the amendment when the time comes.

I suggest the absence of a quorum and ask unanimous consent that time under the quorum call be divided equally between both sides.

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