Legislation can be a positive, creative process when politicians work together for the common good. (I know, you can stop laughing now.) I wish that Republican legislators used their influence for something useful, instead of posturing and saying no to programs they already know work. Hell, even Haley Barbour likes it!
At midnight on Sept. 30, the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (TEF) — considered one of the most successful stimulus programs, having created 250,000 jobs for previously unemployed workers — expires. The Obama administration and Democrats had requested $1.5 to $2.5 billion to keep it going for another year. The House has passed two extenders, but yesterday, legislation failed again in the Senate. That means employers are now faced with laying off the TEF workers, as many as 100,000, into an economy that already has 14.9 million unemployed.
“Without federal funding, most states and localities won’t be able to continue to provide support for these jobs,” Larry Summers, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said in a statement today. “Governors from both parties have called for the extension of the program and some will try to keep it going for a couple of months with state funds, buying Congress time to act. But the reality is that many states will be unable to fill the gap, and those that can, only temporarily. A commitment to extending this program will give more governors the confidence not to end it now and could save up to 100,000 jobs.”
The program did not need to end in this way. Senate Democrats tried numerous times to extend the legislation — in provisions moved in March and blocked by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), and in versions of the tax extenders legislation. This week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tried to move a three-month extension, to give Democrats some time to work a fuller fix for the program into another bill. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) objected to Durbin’s unanimous consent request, killing it on the grounds that it expands the welfare state and costs too much.
TEF’s end has led to howls from progressive think-tanks, Republican and Democratic governors and the thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of workers the program has aided.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for instance, looked at the programs states created — 36 of them, plus a program in Washington D.C. — and summarized their achievements. One county in Tennessee brought its unemployment rate from 27.3 to 18.6 percent in just eight months. North Dakota helped create jobs for parents without the means to pay their child support. South Carolina targeted parents who would otherwise collect welfare. Alabama aided job-sapped rural areas. CBPP’s analysts described ending the fund as “walking away from a win-win-win.”
Congress could attempt to recreate or reauthorize the program later, though Congressional aides say that chances are slim. That leaves states to try to fund their own programs, despite the fact that many are facing yawning fiscal gaps and service cutbacks.