EPPC Scholars Meet with Federal Officials to Oppose TANF Program Rule that Targets Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers

Published April 8, 2024


On Monday, April 8, 2024, EPPC scholars Eric Kniffin and Rachel N. Morrison met with government officials in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) to oppose the Health and Human Services’ proposed changes to “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF) regulations, which are expected to be finalized soon. 

As in their public comment, the scholars focused on one of seven proposals in HHS’s 2023 Proposed Rule, to “clarify when an expenditure is reasonably calculated to accomplish a TANF purpose.” Specifically, the scholars took issue with HHS’s claim that pregnancy resource centers do provide assistance to needy families and therefore are ineligible for TANF grants. The comment argues that pregnancy resource centers do in fact qualify for TANF grants and points out that HHS is too biased to be trusted to determine whether a “reasonable person” would think otherwise:

What makes this proposal even worse is that the “reasonable person” test is going to be applied by HHS. . . . [U]nder the proposed rule, if a State is notified that HHS not “satisfied” that a TANF expenditure “does not appear” to be “reasonably calculated to accomplish a purpose of TANF,” HHS will notify the State that it must now prove to HHS’s satisfaction that a “reasonable person” would “consider” the exact same expenditure to be “within the TANF purposes.” With all due respect, that is not very helpful. It is hard to understand how HHS could contend that this new proposed standard gives any more “clarity” to states charged with managing TANF programs . . . The subjectivity of the reasonable person test is even more problematic when it comes to “crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers,” which HHS targets with suspicion. There is no reason to think that HHS is well-positioned to know what a “reasonable person” thinks about the benefits that such centers offer and provide. Moreover, there is little reason for the American public to have confidence that HHS would use its boundless discretion under the “reasonable person” test fairly as applied to such centers . . . Why does HHS believe that it is in a good position to assess whether a “reasonable person” would think that a pregnancy center would advance TANF purposes, given that HHS’s political leadership advocates for a radical pro-abortion agenda that does not reflect Congress’ priorities or the American people’s convictions, and given that HHS staff overwhelming support the Democratic Party?

A written version of their comments, submitted to EOP’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is available here (PDF).

Eric Kniffin is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he works on a range of initiatives to protect and strengthen religious liberty as part of EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project.

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