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TANF Emergency Fund “Pretty Much Dead in the Water”

Earlier, I made the mistaken assumption that the continuing resolution which Congress will pass before leaving for the elections would extend the TANF Emergency Fund for another few months. It looks like the program in question was a reauthorization of the existing TANF program, not the Emergency Fund.

Let me just briefly describe the Emergency Fund. It’s a job-subsidy program that helps poor parents on TANF (i.e. welfare) to get work, with their salaries paid in part by the states. This relatively cheap program, created with the stimulus package and costing around $1.5 billion dollars, has created over 240,000 jobs. Republicans in the states, including many GOP governors, have lauded the bill. So of course, Republicans in the Senate will block its extension.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday tried to push a three-month extension of a stimulus bill jobs program that is set to expire on Thursday, jeopardizing tens of thousands of jobs. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) objected.

“The majority has known this program was going to expire at the end of this month all year and has taken no steps to reauthorize this important social safety net program,” said Enzi, who blocked Durbin’s request for “unanimous consent” for a reauthorization.

Having known about the expiration all year, Democrats first attempted to reauthorize the program back in March, but were blocked by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who objected to the $1.5 billion cost of the measure. The next attempt came last week when Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) included the program in a catchall “tax extenders” bill shot down by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) […]

A Democratic aide told HuffPost that the Emergency Fund “sounds like it’s pretty much dead in the water” after Tuesday’s request failed.

So Enzi is lying here, and he further lied by confusing the reauthorization of the underlying TANF program, in the continuing resolution, with the TANF Emergency Fund. “I am not sure the Senator from Illinois is aware that the chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee have put together a bipartisan 1-year extension of TANF,” Enzi said, but he didn’t really delineate between the Emergency Fund and TANF itself.

To be clear, if the entire stimulus worked in ways similar to the TANF Emergency Fund, the unemployment rate would be drastically reduced. This is about as close to a public works fund that we had in the stimulus package, and by all accounts it was wildly successful. So successful, in fact, that it proves the ability for Keynesian direct job spending to reduce unemployment.

That’s why Republicans want to kill it, not because of the cost. As Enzi himself says, it’s a “successful safety-net program.”

Many of these 240,000 jobs will evaporate by the end of the week. In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn has found some money he can transfer to keep the TANF Emergency Fund going. Hopefully other states will follow suit, because expecting the Senate to come to their senses is a pipe dream.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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