News Reports Highlight Why TANF Flexibility is Needed

Nov 02, 2012

by Elizabeth Lower-Basch

When Congress returns to Washington after the November 6 election, it is possible that the Senate will consider a resolution "disapproving" of the welfare waiver guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in July.  This guidance addresses work participation rates and "allows states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families."

Recent news stories highlight the problems with the current work participation rates and the reasons that HHS is on the right path in inviting states to propose thoughtful alternatives that would more accurately reflect the states' performance in helping clients achieve self-sufficiency through work.

  • Louise Radnofsky's story for the Wall Street Journal focuses on the ways in which the work participation rates force clients and caseworkers to spend their time and attention on documenting participation, rather than on finding jobs or building skills.   The article quotes Andrea Beske, a program manager for a nonprofit that handles welfare recipients' cases for Minnesota as saying that counselors spend 90% of their time explaining, collecting and reviewing time sheets to prove recipients are seeking work.
  • Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Mark Guarino explains that Ohio has cut thousands of poor families from cash assistance in the past year - a 30 percent decline - in a desperate attempt to come into compliance with the federal requirements. Ohio has failed to meet the target for several years, and faces the loss of as much as $135 million from its block grant unless it achieves the goal this year. While some clients are finding jobs as the economy slowly improves, others are being cut due to time limits or sanctions, as reported by Kate Giammarise for the Toledo Blade earlier this year. It is easier to cut clients off than to help them find jobs - and the work participation rate can be met either way.

Congress has a long list of important work to do before December 31.  Blocking HHS from partnering with states that are ready to be evaluated based on their customers' employment outcomes should not be on that list.

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