In Focus

Oct 6, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Making a Difference for Poor Babies Using TANF: A Framework for States

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Stephanie Schmit

Americans overwhelmingly agree that children’s fate in life should not be determined by the circumstances in which they are bornBut children born into poor families are at great risk of persistent poverty during their childhood. A growing body of evidence shows that poverty in early childhood is a grave threat to children’s long-term health, well-being, and educational success, with persistent and deep poverty causing the most damage. A new CLASP report, TANF and the First Year of Life: Making a Difference at a Pivotal Moment, suggests an innovative framework for thinking about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in the context of the first year of life, a vision for what a reformed TANF might look like, and concrete steps that states can begin taking right now to move their programs in this direction.

TANF offers an important, large-scale, high-impact opportunity to achieve two-generational goals for poor families with infants because:

  • TANF already reaches about a quarter million of the poorest families with babies or pregnant women, which is about half of deeply poor families with infants.
  • By its design, TANF is inherently a two-generational program, in that it is explicitly aimed at serving low-income families with children.
  • TANF is a block grant that gives states a great deal of flexibility in deciding which needy families to serve, what services to provide, and what to expect of recipients.

Today’s state TANF programs too often fall far short of their potential. Barriers to access, underfunded services, and work requirements that do not take the needs of infants into account hold parents back and make it harder for them to lift themselves and their babies out of poverty. For example, in 11 states, parents of infants under the age of one are subject to work requirements and could lose their entire family’s cash assistance benefit the first time they fail to meet work requirements.

But the growing evidence about the importance of the first year of life for children’s long-term success offers the opportunity to build a much stronger case than even just a few years ago for redesigning TANF programs to meet the developmental needs of infants in TANF families.

For the first time, the paper provides a framework grounded in the research about infant development and detailed data about TANF families and state policy options, to provide a wealth of practical ideas for state leaders. These ideas, organized into a package of foundational options for all states to consider, along with a set of more innovative options for states that have made strong progress on the foundations, include:

  • removing barriers that prevent pregnant women and parents of babies from accessing cash assistance;
  • redesigning work requirements to reflect the needs of infants and the realities of today’s low-wage labor market;
  • ensuring access to quality child care; and
  • building linkages to other programs and services, such as early childhood home visiting, health care, and nutritional supports.

Some states have already started to adopt more evidence-based and positive policies for TANF families. Minnesota repealed its family cap in 2013. Last year, Washington state set aside nearly $1 million from the TANF block grant to fund a pilot home visiting project targeting TANF recipients using evidence-based models already used in the state. The recent reauthorizations of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) require states to make a number of changes to how they deliver the services funded by these programs, and how they relate to TANF. This makes it an opportune time for states to think holistically about how these multiple programs serve the same families, and to re-envision TANF as a true two-generational anti-poverty program. 

Aug 5, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Amidst Reauthorization Discussion, Latest TANF Financial Data Released

By Randi Hall

The Office of Family Assistance in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) financial data for fiscal year 2014, providing new evidence of the wide range of programs and supports funded by both TANF and state spending claimed as maintenance of effort (MOE)For the second consecutive year, combined spending declined on core activities—basic cash assistance, child care (including funds transferred to the Child Care Development Block Grant or CCDBG), and work-related activities. While child care spending increased nationally by $120 million and work-related activities expenditures rose by $134.5 million, spending on basic assistance once again declined by $294.5 million, or 3 percent. 

Together, these categories accounted for just under half of spending in 2014. New reporting requirements, which went into effect for FY 2015, will break down expenditures into more specific categories, providing more ability to understand the ways in which TANF supports activities such as child welfare or pre-kindergarten programs. 

Source: CLASP calculations of FY 2014 TANF Expenditure Data.  * Remaining Categories include Transfers to SSBG, Transportation and Supportive Services, Individual Development Accounts, Non-recurrent Short-Term Benefits, Two-Parent Family Formation, and Assistance & Non-assistance Authorized Under Prior Law.

Source: CLASP calculations of FY 2014 TANF Expenditure Data. * Remaining Categories include Transfers to SSBG, Transportation and Supportive Services, Individual Development Accounts, Non-recurrent Short-Term Benefits, Two-Parent Family Formation, and Assistance & Non-assistance Authorized Under Prior Law.  

This data is timely, as the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee will be considering a TANF reauthorization bill when Congress returns in September.  The discussion draft bill poses an open question about whether to require states to spend at least a minimum share of TANF/MOE spending on core activities including basic assistance, child care, and work-related activities. During the hearing on this bill, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) asked witnesses about a possible floor of 50 percent. While the United States as a whole spent 49.4 percent of TANF and MOE funds on these three core activities, 23 individual states would fall under the 50-percent spending floor if it had been in place in FY 2014. Eight of these states use less than 25 percent of their TANF/MOE funds on core activities.   In our comments on the draft, CLASP advocates for a minimum spending floor to incentivize states to expand access to cash assistance and provide additional resources for workforce training and child care, enabling states to meet new proposed performance goals.

CLASP has updated our TANF 101: Block Grant brief to reflect this data.  We will update it again when poverty and child care spending and participation in CCDBG data are available.

Jul 21, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Comments on U.S. House Discussion Draft on TANF Reauthorization

By Randi Hall

On Friday, July 10, the Subcommittee on Human Resources within the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means released a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for fiscal years (FYs) 2016-2020.  TANF has been operating under short-term extensions since 2010.  The draft includes provisions that are garnering bipartisan support, and the subcommittee may try to move this bill forward before leaving for the August Congressional recess or in early September upon their return.

Last week, CLASP submitted comments on the discussion draft bill. These comments assess whether the proposed changes would address states’ likelihood of accomplishing TANF’s dual goals of alleviating poverty among children and families while creating effective pathways to economic security.

In earlier testimony for the record submitted to the subcommittee in May, CLASP documented the primary reasons for TANF’s ineffectiveness as a safety net:

We are pleased that the discussion draft bill makes critical changes to improve the WPR, which CLASP has long advocated.  The bill would give states greater flexibility to serve individuals with barriers to employment and other disabilities, and it would count more education and training activities toward the WPR to support TANF recipients in obtaining the skills and credentials needed to sustain employment.

However, the bill does not provide states with additional federal resources.  Moreover, the elimination of some of the tools that states have previously used to meet the WPR may make it challenging for some states to meet the rate.  We remain particularly concerned that the proposed elimination of these WPR tools, when combined with the costs of providing employment services to the neediest participants, may lead states that fail to meet the new rate to respond by restricting access to cash assistance for the most vulnerable families, rather than by expanding services.   The draft bill proposes new outcome measures for TANF’s effectiveness in connecting recipients to employment, but not for its effectiveness as a safety net.

Our comments, therefore, provide recommendations for how to build on the discussion draft to strengthen both parts of TANF’s dual mission.  We look forward to working with the Congress to improve the bill and ultimately reauthorizing TANF.


To read CLASP’s comments and recommendations on the discussion draft bill, click here.

To read CLASP’s more detailed comments on the proposed employment outcome measures, click here.

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