Last week, House Republicans launched a gimmicky website called “YouCut,” which asked visitors to vote on which item out of a pre-chosen set they would like to see axed from the federal budget. Republicans promised to bring a bill to the House floor nixing the item that received the most votes.
The problem with this is two-fold. For starters, eliminating every single one of the proposed YouCut items would amount to cutting 0.017 percent of the federal budget. This highlights the fundamental unseriousness of Republican claims that you can significantly reduce the federal budget deficit by targeting small-ball spending programs. But second, the ultimate “winner” of the contest is a successful jobs program that was fundamentally mischaracterized and misunderstood by the GOP.
With about 29 percent of the 280,000 votes cast, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund led the pack. House Republicans called the fund a “backdoor way to undo” welfare reform that “incentivizes states to increase their welfare caseloads.” Of course, phrased that way, the program sounds absolutely awful!
But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out, neither of those claims are actually true. While the Emergency Fund does provide payments to families facing financial emergencies, it does so with stringent work requirements. In addition, it’s enabling states “to place 186,000 unemployed individuals in subsidized jobs by the end of the summer”:
It’s the largest subsidized employment effort states have ever taken under TANF, the national block grant created by the 1996 welfare reform law. A large share of the jobs are in the private sector…Individuals receiving TANF assistance funded through the Emergency Fund must meet the same stringent work requirements imposed on other TANF recipients. They have 12 weeks to find a job — an extremely difficult task in today’s labor market — after which they must meet their work requirement through other work activities, such as unpaid work.
“The recession has caused unprecedented need for many struggling families with children and the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund helps states meet that demand but is also responsible for directly funding 185,000 jobs. I can think of few ideas Republicans have floated that have been as devoid of compassion and commonsense as this one,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA).
Even Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), no liberal darling, has said that the program provides “much-needed aid during this recession by enabling businesses to hire new workers, thus enhancing the economic engines of our local communities.” But House Republicans are set to put it on the chopping block, because of an online gimmick.