Wyden, Brown, Schatz, Casey Announce Legislation to Provide Emergency Cash Assistance to Low-Income Families and Individuals

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Bob Casey, D-Pa. today announced legislation that would establish a new $10 billion Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant program to help low-income families and individuals experiencing significant financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pandemic TANF Assistance Act would also temporarily waive work requirements and other barriers to assistance for current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program beneficiaries who may be unable to complete program work requirements due to state economic closures, social distancing measures, illness or caring for a loved one.

“While the coronavirus pandemic has impacted families across the country, we cannot forget the families and people who were teetering on the edge of the financial cliff even before the pandemic hit. These vulnerable families, scared for their health and safety like the rest of us, are struggling to pay rent, buy groceries and keep their lights on so they can weather this crisis,” Wyden said. “The next COVID-19 relief package must include cash assistance and other supports to keep the most vulnerable American families fed, housed and together.”

“We know this health crisis has caused financial hardships for families across the country,” said Brown. “We must get immediate relief for these individuals and families, so they don’t have to choose between paying a light bill or buying groceries. One of the best ways we can do that is to ensure relief funds for low-income families are included in the next coronavirus relief package, and remove burdensome requirements that prevent vulnerable families from getting the help they need.”

“Families who were already struggling to get by before this crisis have been hit hard by this pandemic, and they need help,” said Schatz. “Our bill will give vulnerable families additional resources to pay their bills and make ends meet, providing some much-needed help to those who need it most.”

“As millions of Americans are out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis, many families are experiencing the added burden of potentially losing their TANF benefits because they are unable to meet the work requirements,” said Casey. “The Pandemic TANF Assistance Act would allow current recipients of TANF to continue receiving their benefits, in order to help them meet their families’ needs, regardless of whether they are able to work. The bill would also provide additional TANF funds to assist more families who are in need as a result of the pandemic. It is imperative that we do all can to help those experiencing financial hardship as a result of this public health emergency.”  

Establishes a Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant Program

  • The Pandemic TANF Assistance Act appropriates $10 billion for Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grants that would allow states, territories and tribes to provide eligible families short-term cash, non-cash and in-kind assistance to help address their basic needs, prevent household emergencies like foreclosure, forfeiture, and termination of utilities, and avoid children needing to be removed from their homes. 
  • The Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant funds may also be used for subsidized employment for jobs that can be performed remotely or essential work as long as individuals have access to personal protective equipment. When federal and state emergency declarations are lifted, the funds may be used for a broader array of subsidized employment.
  • Benefits are limited to individuals negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty line.

Waives TANF Work and Other Requirements

  • The Pandemic TANF Assistance Act prohibits states and tribes from sanctioning an individual receiving TANF benefits who is adversely affected by COVID-19.
  • States will be held harmless for not achieving and verifying TANF work participation rates, not complying with paternity establishment and child support state requirements, and extending assistance past the 5-year limit.

Christine James-Brown, CEO & President, Child Welfare League of America: “Providing emergency assistance, especially cash and in-kind support, is even more important during this pandemic than during the 2008-09 recession. The need to strengthen families and to support kinship caregivers across the country could not be more important than it is today. We support Senator Wyden’s bill and hope Congress will act with speed to address this gap.”

Max Lesko, National Executive Director, Children’s Defense Fund: “The Children’s Defense Fund is proud to support Senator Wyden‘s Pandemic TANF Assistance Act. Our nation’s most vulnerable children and families need access to critical safety net programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in order to survive this pandemic, and this bill increases this vital assistance when it is needed most. This bill would also suspend burdensome work requirements and harsh time limits on assistance, while providing billions in emergency cash assistance to help children and families get by. We must see a robust state and federal response to meet our shameful and growing child poverty crisis. This legislation is an important step toward comprehensive, coordinated action to help millions of children and families keep food on the table and a roof over their heads during this crisis.”

Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus Campaign for Children: “The COVID-19 outbreak and resulting economic crisis is falling hardest on the most vulnerable among us, including our nation’s children. Children already disproportionately experience poverty in the U.S. and new research finds that child poverty may increase by as much as 53 percent if we don’t take action. Providing emergency cash assistance is one way we can help families get the resources they need during this difficult time to ensure that this historic pandemic does not threaten our children’s future outcomes because we failed to elevate their unique needs.”

Donna Butts, Executive Director, Generations United: “This important legislation will help provide critical support to grandparents and other relatives who step in unexpectedly to care for children whose parents cannot. The pandemic is hurting these families and threatening their ability to make ends meet. They’ve lost jobs and retirement savings at the same time the cash-strapped child welfare systems will be relying on relatives to care for children and keep them out of an overburdened foster care system.”

A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

A copy of the bill text is available here.

A web version of this release is available here.