In Focus: Federal TANF Policy

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. 

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. 

site by Trilogy Interactive