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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to support extending a critically needed program that provides hope to 250,000 of our poorest families.
I am joined by Senators Durbin, Casey, Sherrod Brown, Bingaman, Burris, Harkin, Leahy, Boxer, Menendez, Reed and Dodd in offering the Job
Preservation for Parents in Poverty Act, which simply provides a 3-month extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF, Emergency Contingency Fund. The $500 million in funding needed to pay for this extension is offset with corresponding reductions to the regular TANF Contingency Fund in fiscal year 2012.
We have suffered through the worst recession since the great depression. Just this month, the Census Bureau reported that nearly 44 million Americans--1 in 7--lived in poverty last year. This represents the largest number of Americans living in poverty since the Census Bureau began keeping these statistics 51 years ago.
The TANF Emergency Fund was created as part of the Recovery Act enacted last year to provide temporary, targeted, emergency spending that combats the recession by helping to create jobs for our poorest families. It gave States funds to subsidize jobs for low-income parents and older youth and to provide basic cash assistance and short-term benefits to the increasing numbers of poor families with children. It addresses the emergency needs of low-income families that are struggling in the recession.
At least 36 States have used TANF Emergency Contingency Funds to create or expand subsidized employment programs. States have used this fund to create subsidized jobs in the private and public sectors during the depth of the recession. By the time it expires at the end of September, the fund will have created approximately 250,000 jobs for low-income Americans who would otherwise be unemployed. Nearly all of these jobs will be eliminated if the program is not extended with additional funds.
If this worthy program is allowed to end on Thursday, these States will no longer be able to use the TANF Emergency Fund to subsidize employment and provide basic cash assistance to struggling families to help with housing and heating bills, domestic violence services, and transportation costs. This will hurt our economy because families on TANF have to spend nearly all of the money they receive to meet their basic needs. This will reduce demand for the goods and services, particularly in low-income communities.
Massachusetts relies on the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund to maintain the key existing safety net programs for cash assistance, emergency housing, rental vouchers, employment and training services, child care, and other initiatives to support low-income families getting back to work.
In Massachusetts, the Emergency Fund is used to provide TANF cash assistance to more than 50,000 low-income families in the Bay State each month. To qualify for this assistance, a family of three must have income less than $1,069 a month. Let me repeat that. To qualify for this assistance a family of three must have income of less than $1,069 a month. The maximum cash grant they can receive from the state is just $578 a month. Massachusetts also uses the fund to provide emergency shelter and related services to 3,000 homeless families.
An extension of the TANF Emergency Fund would provide Massachusetts with federal assistance to accommodate the 10 percent TANF caseload increase we have experienced since the start of the recession. It would enable the State to preserve and maintain critical services for our poorest citizens during these difficult economic times.
If Congress does not immediately act, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost. Businesses will lose access to critical employment support programs, and the lives of our poorest families will be made even more difficult.
Extending the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund is a common-sense policy that enjoys broad support from public officials, private experts, and bipartisan organizations, including: Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moody's Analytics; the National Governors Association; the National Conference of State Legislators; the American Public Human Services Association; and the National Association of State TANF Administrators. I ask all my colleagues to support this legislation.
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