With tax reform strengthening our economy and incentivizing job creation, we need to help more Americans achieve independence by bringing them off the sidelines and into the workforce. From this perspective, the economy is stronger than it has been in years. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly two decades and the number of open jobs is soaring while the fewest people since 1969 are receiving unemployment benefits.
Despite this positivity, a common concern I hear while traveling throughout Nebraska is the challenge of finding qualified workers, which is no surprise given approximately 6 million jobs are going unfilled in our country right now. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported 180,000 jobs would remain unfilled even if every unemployed worker throughout the Midwest were matched with an open position.
This is not to say we have run out of able-bodied people who are capable of doing jobs. It is rather a question of connecting the dots. We cannot simply abandon discouraged workers who have given up looking for stable employment due to the economic realities of the last decade. Through a series of hearings in the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, which I chair, we have explored the jobs gap and developed a legislative approach to narrow it, the JOBS for Success Act.
The purpose of the JOBS for Success Act is to reform and reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by refocusing its resources on the truly needy and making states accountable for work outcomes. As the focus of welfare reform in 1996, TANF was billed as a way to provide temporary financial assistance with the ultimate goal of helping its beneficiaries to find steady employment.
However, states have deviated from this purpose, even going as far as to divert funds for the purpose of balancing their annual budgets or providing benefits like college scholarships to students from middle class families. As noble as these goals may be, they do not fit the intended purpose of the program.
The JOBS for Success Act will refocus TANF support on families falling below 200% of the poverty level and require states to manage cases individually in order to pair potential workers with employers who will train them to fill open jobs. Furthermore, it provides for tracking of post-employment outcomes to ensure workers remain employed and earn consistent wage increases.
Finally, my bill includes a number of good ideas from other members of the Ways and Means Committee, such as requiring states to track and report improper payments to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse while adding marijuana dispensaries to the list of prohibited venues for withdrawing funds. These measures are practical and necessary to ensure truly needy families are provided meaningful access to the services and support they need to move up the economic ladder – not just a check every month.
We have an opportunity to reorient the TANF program to today’s economy while fulfilling the needs of both rapidly expanding businesses and Americans on the sidelines so they can experience economic opportunity and self-sufficiency. The JOBS for Success Act will help us to deliver this outcome to the American people.