OSI Grant Demonstrates How Collaboration Can Help States Draw Federal TANF Funds

Aug 21, 2009

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

A recent grant from George Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI) to the state of New York demonstrates how states, by collaborating with philanthropists, not-for-profit organizations, retailers and employers, may be able to draw from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund created earlier this year by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In mid August, New York Gov. David Paterson announced a new collaboration between the state and OSI  to provide one-time, $200 back-to-school payments to more than 800,000 children in low-income families across New York State.  Families with a school-aged child (3-17) receiving cash assistance or food stamp benefits received their payments immediately through their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

For this initiative, OSI gave $35 million to the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA).  OTDA then submitted a request to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for $140 million from the TANF Emergency Fund. New York qualified for this money based on a commitment to increase short-term non-recurrent benefits by $175 million - the $35 million from OSI and the $140 million from the TANF Emergency Fund.  The Emergency Fund provides 80 percent reimbursement of increased expenditures in three categories: basic assistance, short-term non-recurrent benefits, and subsidized employment.

All states are eligible to receive funds from the $5 billion TANF Emergency Fund, up to a limit of 50 percent of each state's block grant over two years (federal fiscal years 2009 and 2010).  However, most states are not currently planning on accessing their full allotments because their severe budget deficits make it difficult to increase state spending in these areas.  Collaborating with philanthropists, such as New York did, or with other unconventional partners (including local not-for-profit organizations, retailers, or employers), may allow more states to take advantage of the TANF Emergency Fund in these tough economic times.

On September 3, Mimi Corcoran from OSI, Russell Sykes from New York's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and Ken Stephens from the Legal Aid Society participated in a CLASP audioconference to discuss how this initiative came together and to share their lessons learned..


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