In Focus

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.

Jul 14, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

CLASP Reacts to Release of 2015 TANF Reauthorization Bill

By Nune Phillips

The U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee has released a bill to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Since its previous reauthorization in 2005, TANF has been continued under short-term extensions. CLASP strongly recommends that TANF reauthorization focus on alleviating poverty and creating effective pathways to economic opportunity.

TANF is a safety net and employment program meant to provide low-income parents the support necessary to become economically stable and provide a better future for their children. However, research shows that TANF has not accomplished either goal. Low caseloads indicate that families are not utilizing the program due to a variety of factors.

Reauthorization gives Congress the opportunity to transform TANF into a program that truly helps low-income families meet immediate needs while advancing toward economic stability. CLASP is strongly committed to making this program work; we will be reviewing the reauthorization bill and will continue to engage Congress to ensure TANF provides an adequate safety net and necessary employment support.

For background information on TANF, see our TANF 101 series of briefs.

Jun 23, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Bad Policy for Kansas; Bad Policy for America

By Randi Hall

Last month, U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the “Welfare Abuse Prevention Act” (S.1288), which would limit ATM withdrawals to $25 per day for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance.  This federal legislation is modeled on a punitive welfare reform law enacted in Kansas earlier this year.

ATM withdrawal limits have severe implications for TANF recipients, diverting funds from struggling low-income families to banking institutions.  While Kansas charges recipients fees for every ATM transaction, a majority of states charge TANF recipients ATM fees after their first or second withdrawals in a given month.

Policies that limit access to TANF cash benefits are driven by stereotypes and misconceptions about low-income families.  Nationwide, TANF benefits are low; they are not enough to cover necessities such as housing, transportation, and clothing. For example, a single-parent household with two children in Kansas could receive a maximum of $429 a month in TANF benefits, but the fair market rent for a two-bedroom rental unit is $756 a month.  When a family runs out of money before the end of the month, it is not because of poor budgeting choice; there is simply not enough money to cover expenses. In a recent study, TANF recipients described the hardship caused by these fees: “I'm spending money I desperately need on fees instead of diapers, my kid's allergy medicine, toilet paper… It reduces the amount of my cash aid that I can use because most of the places I need the cash don't take EBT cards.” Moreover, recipients may incur late fees on their rent or other bills if they are unable to access funds at the start of the month.  In some remote areas, getting to an ATM may require long travel, increasing recipients’ expenses.

ATM withdrawal limits may violate federal requirements mandating that states provide “adequate access” to cash benefits and charge only “minimal fees” for withdrawals. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determines that Kansas is non-compliant, the state could lose its $102 million TANF block grant. Governor Sam Brownback has signed an amendment to the law that allows the Kansas Department of Children and Families to raise or rescind the withdrawal limit.  Using this authority, the Department should act swiftly to eliminate ATM restrictions.

CLASP encourages policymakers at the state and federal levels to reject any punitive measure that reduces the value of TANF benefits for low-income families. States should ensure that recipients can access their benefits by:

  • Allowing and encouraging direct deposit of benefits;
  • Ensuring that recipients may use EBT cards for low-cost or fee-free ATM  withdrawals; and
  • Providing clear information on ATM fees and surcharges.

In addition, states can support the economic security of TANF recipients by removing asset limits from the program, promoting savings, and offering financial literacy services.

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