Posted on February 13, 2004
WASHINGTON &151; The U. S. Senate has unanimously passed the Poverty Reduction and Prevention Act of 2003 (S.1786). The bill, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), will provide assistance to over 18 million Americans working to fight their way out of poverty. As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, Alexander led the drafting of the legislation, which includes the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program, Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the Assets for Independence Program. "Poverty can be a chronic condition that persists over several generations," Alexander said. "But more often, poverty happens as a consequence of life's unexpected tragedies &151; illness, job loss, divorce, or disability, which can seriously undermine a family's ability to support itself. "These programs provide a safety net that can make the difference in a family's efforts to become self-sufficient again." In Tennessee, over 100,000 individuals and 60,000 families were served by CSBG last year. More than 90 percent were living below the federal poverty level, and 40 percent were elderly or disabled families living on a fixed income. LIHEAP provided assistance to 72,000 Tennesseans. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), the ranking member of the Children and Families Subcommittee, is co-sponsor of the bill. As part of the reauthorization, Alexander and Dodd proposed several changes to the law to strengthen the programs and provide better access to and delivery of these services:
- States will be given greater flexibility in determining who should receive services. Maximum eligibility would be increased from 125 percent of poverty to 60 percent of state median income, expanding services to the extent possible but also providing incentives to encourage states to focus on those most in need;
- The accountability and monitoring of funds will be strengthened at both the state and local level, and states are asked to hold the line on administrative costs and salaries;
- Best practices will be highlighted and creativity encouraged by states in naming exemplary local agencies as Centers of Innovation. The centers will promote and share best practices among all community agencies;
- Local agencies must establish clear goals for reducing poverty in their communities and exhibit that substantial progress is being made in meeting those goals before receiving continuing block grant funds;
- In the area of heating and cooling assistance, there is an increase in funds from $2 billion to $3.4 billion. Provisions and specific triggers are also added that allow for better, more effective release of emergency funds for LIHEAP assistance under extraordinary circumstances.