In Focus: Federal TANF Policy

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.

Sep 19, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

TANF Extended through Continuing Resolution

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

Before departing to campaign, members of Congress extended the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant through December 11, 2014, as part of the continuing resolution to keep the government running.  Without this legislation, TANF would have lapsed on September 30.  Since 2010, TANF has been operating under a series of short-term extensions, often tied to appropriations bills.

While the TANF extension did not include any policy changes, it did include two funding cuts:

  • The Contingency Fund was cut to $598 million, down from the previously authorized level of $612.  In FY 2014, 20 states requested funds from the Contingency Fund. States must qualify based on high levels of unemployment or receipt of nutrition benefits, and must spend state dollars above historical levels on services for needy families. 
  • No money was provided for TANF-related research, which has been set at $15 million per year since TANF was created in 1996.   If these funds are not restored, several major studies of employment strategies currently under way will be at risk.

There is still the possibility that these cuts could be restored when Congress returns in November and grapples with how to provide for funding for the rest of the year, either through appropriations bills or an additional continuing resolution.

In addition, before recessing, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote HR 4137, which would add stores that sell marijuana to the list of locations where states are required to prohibit TANF recipients from accessing their benefits through EBT transactions.  This builds on a provision, enacted in 2012, that requires states to block recipients from withdrawing TANF benefits at liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.  There is no evidence that either provision addresses a real problem; rather, like proposals to require recipients to submit to drug tests, they are based on unfounded stereotypes about welfare recipients. 


Nov 2, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

News Reports Highlight Why TANF Flexibility is Needed

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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