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Welfare Integrity and Data Improvement Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PAULSEN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

I rise today in support of H.R. 3659, legislation to extend Temporary Assistance For Needy Families and related programs through the end of this fiscal year, as well as to ensure that these funds are spent appropriately.

Now, before describing the legislation in greater detail, I note that these same provisions were already approved by the House as part of H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, on Tuesday of this week. But given some of the uncertainty about that legislation, it makes sense to ensure that the TANF program continues to assist families past December 31, when its current authorization expires. That's the first and most important thing that this bill will do.

The TANF program has been generally successful at reducing welfare dependence and encouraging work. This success is partly evidenced by the fact that since it began in 1996, TANF caseloads have fallen by 56 percent through June of this year. And a key reason why this happened is because TANF is designed to promote and also support work. Unfortunately, it is one of the only anti-poverty programs that actually does so, focusing on helping move people from government checks to paychecks.
And especially, given that the focus and the fact that this program helps so many single parents with children, we need to continue TANF so low-income parents have the dignity of working and supporting their family.

But we also can't stop there. Extending TANF will also provide us the opportunity to develop long-term solutions to some of the problems revealed in a subcommittee hearing earlier this year, such as making sure that work requirements apply in all the cases that they should.

In discussing this issue with Subcommittee Chairman Geoff Davis, I know that that remains a key focus of the Human Resources Subcommittee agenda in the coming year.

Aside from extending TANF and related programs, this bill contains two important and bipartisan program integrity provisions. First, it requires that States apply specific data standards to the TANF information they use when administering benefits and reporting data to the Federal Government. This will help ensure that States have reliable data to use in matching within TANF and across other programs, to ensure that the right people are receiving the right benefits.

Unfortunately, today that is not always the case. The absence of such data standards undermine program integrity and results in the waste of taxpayer funds; and that needs to end. This data provision is identical to provisions affecting child welfare programs signed into law by the President in September as part of the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act. And I know Subcommittee Chairman Davis and the gentleman from Texas, my colleague, Mr. Doggett, have worked together throughout the year on this effort.

The second program integrity provision closes what some have dubbed the ``strip club loophole.'' This loophole currently allows individuals to access welfare benefits at ATMs in strip clubs, liquor clubs, and casinos. This provision insists that all States will take the necessary steps to end this abusive practice which has been highlighted in news stories across the country.

Some States have already implemented policies to close this loophole, ensuring that welfare benefits are spent to support children and families. This bill ensures that all States take action to close this loophole.

I note that this policy is the same as that introduced by Senators HATCH and BAUCUS, the ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the Senate Finance Committee, so it has strong bipartisan support in the other body as well.

Most importantly, Mr. Speaker, by continuing funding for TANF and related programs at their current levels, this bill does not add one penny to the deficit.

Again, this legislation continues TANF and related programs for 9 months, while making needed changes to improve program integrity. More does need to be done to further improve TANF, especially on how it helps parents go and get to work. This legislation will allow that process of reform to continue into next year, while ensuring that important TANF benefits remain available beyond their current December 31 expiration.

I want to thank Representative Geoff Davis, the chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, for his work and effort on this issue, as well as Dr. Boustany and Mr. Schock for their important efforts and cosponsoring this measure that we're bringing forward to the House today.

I ask all my colleagues to support it and pass it.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. PAULSEN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I just want to thank the gentleman for raising the issue about ensuring that TANF recipients can access their benefits in a variety of locations.

I will say the bill that we are considering here on the floor today requires States to block access to welfare benefits in casinos, liquor stores, and strip clubs, as we talked about earlier. However, we do understand that some grocery stores, convenience stores, and local markets may also sell groceries and alcohol or have gambling machines as well. That's why there is an exception in the bill to provide exactly for the concerns that the gentleman from Texas raised.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. PAULSEN. Mr. Speaker, in closing, again, this legislation continues TANF and related programs for an additional 9 months--it was going to run out on December 31--while making both needed and also bipartisan reforms and changes that are going to improve program integrity.

I appreciate the comments of all of the Members here on the floor today who have joined us in support of the bill. I look forward to working with them to continually improve how TANF helps low-income adults work and also become self-sufficient in the months ahead.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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