Legislature(2001 - 2002)
03/28/2001 01:58 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 21-URGE EXTENSION OF FEDERAL TANF GRANTS MR. JIM NORDLUND, Director of the Division of Public Assistance, Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), stated support for SJR 21. This resolution supports continuation of supplemental grants through the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, established with the creation of the federal welfare reform law that passed in 1996. That law replaced open-ended entitlements to states for the AFDC program with a block grant program for states. The amount of the block grant was based on the amount of money each state had received for their AFDC programs in FY 1994, amounting to $63.6 million for Alaska. The federal law also provided that relatively poor and rapidly growing states would receive a 2.5 percent annual increase to their block grants amounts. Alaska is considered to be a high growth state. MR. NORDLUND explained that states received the supplemental increases for four years. Alaska's first block grant in 1998 amounted to $68 million; that amount has increased to $70 million but it will decrease to $63 million in October, the start of the federal fiscal year [FY 02]. DHSS obligated $70 million and more for cash assistance, child care and other programs and now faces a $15 million deficit. Calculated into that deficit is the $6.9 million that will be lost from federal sources. SJR 21 requests Congress to continue the supplemental amount at the current year's level for at least one more year. He informed committee members that this approach has received a great deal of support from the National Governors' Association, the National Council of State Legislatures, and other organizations. CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked if other state legislatures have passed similar resolutions. MR. NORDLUND nodded affirmatively. CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked if a copy of the resolution should also be sent to President Bush. MR. NORDLUND said he believes the omission of the President as a recipient was an oversight. CHAIRWOMAN GREEN offered to accept a conceptual amendment to add the President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to the list of recipients [Amendment 1]. SENATOR LEMAN so moved and, with no objection, the motion carried. CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked if anyone expected to use the TANF funds when welfare reform was initiated. MR. NORDLUND said he does not believe any of the states expected welfare reform to be as successful as it has been. Caseloads have dropped by over 50 percent. In the initial years, the block grant balances built up and DHSS was advised by members of Congress that the state should spend those funds. Caseloads had dropped so quickly that the states had not had sufficient time to gear up and use the funds to build up programs. Alaska has built up its programs and is now dependent on that money. He noted SJR 21 asks for a one-year extension but the whole TANF program is up for reauthorization by Congress. Number 1431 CHAIRWOMAN GREEN asked if the Legislature will know anything by next session. MR. NORDLUND said it should because the law has to be reauthorized by October. CHAIRWOMAN GREEN said she questions whether the state is doing things it shouldn't be with this money. She said sometimes good things happen when people are forced to find new ways to run programs. MR. NORDLUND said the TANF program is in the process of being audited and it is possible the audit will determine that a program, similar to the Head Start program, should not be funded with TANF money. He suggested amending SJR 21 by removing "the Head Start Program," on page 2, line 12, and changing $6,900,000 to $6,887,800 on page 1 line 15 [Amendment 2}. He explained that $6,887,800 is the exact number, while $6,900,000 was an estimate. SENATOR DAVIS moved to adopt Amendment 2. There being no objection, CHAIRWOMAN GREEN announced that Amendment 2 was adopted. SENATOR LEMAN moved CSSJR 21(HES) from committee with individual recommendations and its zero fiscal note. There being no objection, the motion carried.