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Mr. DAVIS of Kentucky. Madam Speaker, I would like to take a moment before speaking on this measure to respond to the gentleman's remark, my friend, the distinguished gentleman from Texas and ranking member on the subcommittee.
We've worked very hard over the last year on the issue of data standardization, correcting flaws in the system, got the first data standardization language in the history of the country, an act that would begin to address issues like this. I beg to respectfully disagree with the position that the ranking member took on this, talking about the idea of convenience with the casino or adult establishments.
As somebody who grew up in interesting circumstances and has done a lot of volunteer work over the last 30 years with folks with challenges, the first question that I would ask if somebody is in need of assistance is, what in the world are they doing using a card to get cash inside of a casino. I'm not impugning anybody's integrity, but as somebody who can look across the river from where I live where there are several casinos, there are more than enough establishments, and I think the deeper question that we have to address is how our funds are going to be used when we help those who are in need. There are legitimate needs that these people have, and we've got to make sure that this program is tight, that it has the integrity to function so that every dollar is going to meeting those basic needs. I think it's a very small thing to bring this type of integrity to the program.
I rise in support of H.R. 3567, the Welfare Integrity Now for Children and Families Act of 2011, introduced by my close friend from Louisiana, Congressman Charles Boustany.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is a program that provides support for low-income families and children that helps them to move from welfare to work. It was a successful reform since it replaced the New Deal-era welfare programs in 1996, and TANF has been successful at cutting welfare dependence by 57 percent.
Are there opportunities to improve the program, to strengthen the program? Absolutely. There are a variety of issues and core processes that need to be addressed to bring more private sector practices into the management and administration of the program, like the data standardization that I talked about earlier, to allow us to understand how funds are being used and how better to serve those who are being helped by providing information to those on the front line.
Even more importantly, though, by promoting work among single parents, who are the most common welfare recipients, it helps significantly reduce child poverty in female-headed families over time. Even at today's elevated unemployment rates, TANF continues to promote more work and earnings and less poverty.
Despite this overall progress, TANF can and should be strengthened. Recently, concern has been raised about TANF benefits being withdrawn and used at strip clubs, liquor stores, and casinos. This is inappropriate as a use of taxpayer dollars and an outright abuse of taxpayer trust. Indeed, as my colleague from Louisiana highlighted, many local news investigations and exposés have verified this unfortunate abuse of a well-intended program.
One of the most shocking reports to me was from King 5 News in Seattle, Washington. They discovered through an investigation that 13,000 TANF recipients withdrew approximately $2 million at casinos just in 2010.
I think it's very reasonable from an oversight position to ask the question, why are they in the casino in the first place? The use of these dollars can't possibly be meeting basic grocery needs and things like that in an establishment like that or any other type of adult establishment.
Luckily, some States like Washington, New Mexico, and Texas have begun to take action on a local basis, but I believe this is one issue that we need to address at the Federal level, at the core, first by stopping this problem as a symptom and then dealing with the deeper systemic and process issues that we can establish through data standardization and simple controls so these cards will not even work in such an establishment.
H.R. 3567 would close the so-called ``strip club'' loophole within 2 years of enactment. The States would be required to block welfare benefit card transactions in casinos, liquor stores, and strip clubs. In plain language, welfare benefits could no longer be accessed at any of these facilities.
The same provision was included in H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, as well as H.R. 3659, a standalone TANF extension bill introduced by Congressman Erik Paulsen, both of which passed the House in December. This bipartisan, bicameral program integrity provision will safeguard taxpayer funds from abuse and ensure that TANF benefits will continue to provide a helping hand to families that are in need.
I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 3567.
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