The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund — a successful jobs program that has helped hundreds of thousands of people find employment at small businesses, non-profit organizations, and with the federal government — is set to expire this week if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it. Since it was created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the program is responsible for more than 250,000 jobs in 37 states. The New York Times today noted one example of the good the program’s done:
In rural Perry County, Tenn., the program helped pay for roughly 400 new jobs in the public and private sectors. But in a county of 7,600 people, those jobs had a big impact: they reduced Perry County’s unemployment rate to less than 14 percent this August, from the Depression-like levels of more than 25 percent that it hit last year after its biggest employer, an auto parts factory, moved to Mexico. If the stimulus program ends on schedule next week, Perry County officials said, an estimated 300 people there will lose their jobs — the equivalent of another factory closing.
Republicans in Congress, “many of whom oppose all things stimulus,” have derided the program, despite its obvious benefits. In fact, House Republicans employed their gimmicky “YouCut” website to propose cutting the TANF Emergency Fund altogether.
However, many Republican lawmakers at the state level have heaped praise onto the program. Governor Michael Rounds (R-SD) said that it provided “vital financial and supportive service offerings for needy families facing increased hardship.” Georgia state senator Renee Unterman (R) called it “essential in the rebuilding of our economy.” Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) said the fund provided “much-needed aid during this recession by enabling businesses to hire new workers, thus enhancing the economic engines of our local communities.”
The program also has support from economists, with Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi saying that the program’s imminent expiration “is particularly inopportune given that unemployment will likely still be in or near double digits, and more workers will have exhausted their [unemployment] benefits.” Extending the program for another year until unemployment is clearly moving lower seems appropriate,” he said.
Were the program to expire on schedule, it would mean the end of 14,000 jobs in Texas, 20,000 in California, 27,000 in Illinois and more than 12,000 in Pennsylvania. The House has already approved an extension of the program on two separate occasions, but so far, the Senate has shown no inclination to do the same.
As Steve Benen wrote, “in a sane political world, the death of the TANF Emergency Fund would be a pretty big scandal, and Republicans would be afraid to kill an effective jobs program with an unemployment rate near 10%.” But instead, it seems that a successful program with bipartisan support in the states is going to be allowed to simply vanish on Thursday.