A Senate-passed bill to reduce the lifetime limit for welfare payments in Tennessee has been killed in a House subcommittee after the panel was told the cut would not save the state any money and could send some children into state custody.
After hearing testimony from officials of the Department of Human Services and Stewart Clifton, speaking for a social workers organization, the House Finance Subcommittee rejected the measure (HB2061) on voice vote. It would have reduced from five years to four years the maximum time a person can received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits, with some exceptions.
Officially, it was postponed until January, 2015, on motion of House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley. That effectively kills the bill, which had passed the Senate 21-9 on Monday.
DHS officials told the committee that Tennessee pays TANF with a federal block grant. Any money saved by shutting off benefits a year early for some recipients, they said, would mean shifting those funds into related programs, such as one providing child care for welfare recipients doing the jobs required for payment or attending training classes.
“We’re reducing this program and it’s not saving the state of Tennessee a dollar,” said Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, who led criticism of the measure.
The average TANF payment in Tennessee is $185 a month, lower than all other states except Mississippi and unchanged since the 1990s. Clifton said the maximum lifetime payment would be reduced by 20 percent under the proposal, meaning Tennessee would then have the lowest lifetime benefits in the nation.
In Senate debate, California was given as an example of a state that has reduced the lifetime maxium to four months. Actually, Fitzhugh told the committee California only cut the amount of benefit in the fifth year, from $638 per month to $516 and almost all other states – including those in the South – have five-year standards.
Clifton, lobbyist for the Tennessee chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said most people get through job programs and off TANF benefits within four years are in life situations where “they don’t have any other choice.”
Terminating benefits for such people, he said, could leave them “to go underground so no one knows where they are until the children enter state custody.”