June 12, 2003

Senator Ron WydenStatement for the Congressional Record

Regarding Intention to Object to Senate Procedure to HR2350(House Extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)

M. President, I wish to inform my colleagues about why I would object to a unanimous consent request to proceed to HR. 2350, the House Extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families through September 30, 2003. I am compelled to object because the legislation does not allow Oregon's TANF waiver to continue beyond June 30, 2003. This is a difficult decision. Through the years I have been a staunch supporter of welfare programs, and I am proud of what Oregon has accomplished through its innovative program. Since 1994, Oregon's cash assistance caseload has dropped by more than 60 percent, which is higher than the national average. These folks have left the welfare rolls primarily because they found employment. A five year study by the Manpower Research Demonstration Corporation (MDRC) rated Portland's JOBS Program model as one of the most successful in the nation. Specifically, the MDRC report found Portland's program to be "unusually effective" and "produced the largest, most consistent increases on most measures of employment and earnings." A recent National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined "[Portland, Oregon] achieved such success because it was able to continue education and training with other work-related services under a waiver that allowed Oregon to develop its strategy without federal mandates." Clearly, Oregon was able to achieve such great results because the Oregon welfare program is targeted at meeting the specific needs of the people of Oregon. Oregon made these tremendous gains because, like many other states, it was granted the flexibility to do what was best for Oregonians. Indeed, state flexibility was once a hallmark of the TANF program. The waivers allowed states like Oregon to customize their programs to fit the unique characteristics of local communities and to address localized barriers to work. Unfortunately, Oregon's success is threatened because the federal waiver allowing the Oregon Option to operate expires on June 30, 2003. Under section 415 of the Social Security Act, states such as Oregon with waivers approved prior to the enactment of the Personal Responsibility/Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) were allowed to continue operating their programs. However, the Act does not give states authority to continue their waivers past the scheduled date of termination. The House provided an extension of TANF with no provision for a commensurate extension of the waivers. The House failed to provide any reasonable rationale for shutting down Oregon's waiver. I cannot let that happen. Oregon's waiver has helped people move out of poverty into work, but recently, Oregon has been ground zero for the economic downturn. We have the nation's highest unemployment rate at 8.1 percent. We have seen welfare rolls in Oregon increase from 15,887 to 19,176 families in less than a year. With the increased welfare rolls, we have seen a decrease in benefits. Welfare recipients have suffered under increased co-payments for child care and heightened eligibility requirements. Meanwhile, our state Department of Human Services has estimated that it would cost $42 million more to operate a non-waiver TANF program for two years. Even if we account only for the period of this extension - three months - Oregon would be forced to pay over $5 million to alter a program that everyone agrees has worked. That does not make fiscal sense to me, that does not make policy sense to me, and I refuse to let Oregon suffer another blow to its budget and another blow to its welfare program. I ask unanimous consent that my statement be printed in the record.