Legislature(2001 - 2002)
04/17/2001 03:02 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 21-EXTEND FEDERAL TANF GRANTS [Contains discussion of HJR 24, the companion bill.] CHAIR DYSON announced that the next order of business would be CS FOR SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 21(HES), Urging the United States Congress to extend the authorization date for supplemental block grants to the State of Alaska under the Federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program. Number 1650 JOHN MANLY, Staff to Representative John Harris, Alaska State Legislature, came forth on behalf of Representative Harris, sponsor of HJR 21, to explain SJR 21. He stated that [SJR 21] asks the federal government to continue the supplemental funding for the TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program, which is about $6.9 million or about 30 percent of [Alaska's] block grant. He remarked that a number of states that were either poor or growing faster than the national rate were allowed this. He noted that according to the census figures, [Alaska] has grown by 14 percent since 1990. [The supplemental funding] is scheduled to expire the next federal fiscal year, and the whole TANF authorization program expires a year after that. He explained that this resolution asks for a one-year extension so that when the program is reconsidered, [Alaska] will be funded up to that point. MR. MANLY explained that there are a few changes in the Senate version from the House version of the resolution. The House version had included the Head Start program in the list of programs and services that TANF funds cover. However, in the Senate version, on page 2, line 10, that has been taken out. The Senate version also added the President and the U.S. Secretary to be the designated recipients of the resolution. CHAIR DYSON asked why the legislature needs to be involved with this. Number 1753 JIM NORDLUND, Director, Division of Public Assistance, Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS), came forth and stated that this is a resolution to Congress encouraging them to continue the funding. This is using the "finesse" and the authority of the legislature to deliver that message. REPRESENTATIVE JOULE asked, if the legislature did not pass a resolution, whether congress would [continue the funding]. MR. NORDLUND answered that this is a formal way of bringing attention to the issue. He noted that [the resolution] will be fairly well received by Congress. There have already been 14 [U.S.] Senators who have written letters to the President asking for this extended funding, including Alaska's Senator Stevens. It is supported by resolutions from the National Governor's Association, and from the American Public Human Services Association. He stated that there is broad support for this, but lending the voice of [Alaska's] legislature would be helpful. Number 1816 CHAIR DYSON stated that he thinks Representative Joule was asking if this is the only way to make this happen and that Mr. Nordlund's response was, "No, but it would be useful." He asked if the Knowles Administration has any other way of notifying the U.S. government of the desire to have this funding continue. MR. NORDLUND responded that [DHSS] has been working through the Governor's office and the congressional delegation to get this [resolution] through. He said it certainly would be helpful if the legislature would lend its voice as well. He added that this could happen without the passage [of the resolution]. MR. NORDLUND, in reply to a further question, explained that the resolution states that "we" have committed this funding for various programs. If [Alaska] receives that $7 million cut to the block grant, then "we" will have to reach out to some of those agencies and figure out who can no longer be funded. He added that [Alaska] is facing a $14 million deficit with TANF funds for FY 2003. He said getting the supplemental funding continued would plug a big hole in that deficit. CHAIR DYSON asked Mr. Nordlund what the Senate's thinking was in taking out Head Start. MR. NORDLUND answered that it was [DHSS's] request. He stated that [DHSS] is funding Head Start right now; however, it doesn't seem proper. [DHSS] is presently under an audit, and the legislature should not have extended TANF funding to the Head Start program because it is not an allowable use under the federal rights. Number 1959 REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA stated that it would seem to her that as money policy makers [legislators] should be weighing the costs of all of these things, making resolutions on federal funds, and knowing what they are. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL remarked that block grants are based on the rolls of the temporary assistance [programs]. He asked Mr. Nordlund if, since [Alaska] has gone down in the [number of people on temporary assistance, [this resolution] is asking to be held harmless for the amount [Alaska] has gone down. MR. NORDLUND responded that with the way the block grant was structured when welfare reform passed, the deal in Congress was that the entitlement status for welfare would end, and states would be given a set amount of money. The states would have to live with that amount of money if the welfare caseloads go up; if the caseloads go down, the states get to keep the money, regardless of the size of the caseload. He stated that there was one provision whereby states with high populations and the poorer states would get a 2.5 percent bump every year. [Alaska] has been getting that "bump" every year, regardless of what has been happening with the caseload. Since the caseload has been going down, the state has been able to keep that difference and use that funding for other purposes. He explained that in [Alaska] the child care program used to have about $10 million in general fund (GF) money. The federal TANF dollars that have been saved have supplemented the GF, thereby helping to close the fiscal gap. Number 2078 REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL asked if the grant itself will be based on the reauthorization of what [Alaska's] caseload is. MR. NORDLUND answered that "we" don't know that yet. He stated that this is a huge debate in Congress right now. There is a lot of pressure within Congress to say, "Well, since the caseload has dropped in half, you obviously don't need as much money as we guaranteed you in '94." But states are saying, "Well, but we are using those funds for very legitimate other purposes and are actually running programs with it. ... Pulling back that funding level would mean defunding certain programs." REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL remarked that this is probably why he won't support the resolution, because he thinks it is the state's responsibility and not the federal government's [to fund these other programs]. Number 2152 REPRESENTATIVE JOULE made a motion to move SJR 21 [CSSJR 21(HES)] from committee with individual recommendations and the attached zero fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL objected. A roll call vote was taken. Representative Stevens, Cissna, Joule, Wilson, and Dyson voted in favor of moving the resolution. Representative Coghill voted against it. [Representative Kohring was absent.] Therefore, CSSJR 21(HES) moved from the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee by a vote of 5-1.