In Focus: State TANF Policies and Data
Apr 03, 2013 | Permalink »
Supporting School Success for Children Receiving TANF
This week, committees in the Tennessee legislature approved a bill that would cut parents' TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cash assistance benefits if their children failed to be promoted to the next grade at school. This proposal is based on an inaccurate and stereotyped belief that poor parents need to be coerced into caring about their children's school achievement. If enacted, it will create new paperwork burdens for schools and welfare agencies, already straining under budget cuts. Most importantly, it risks pushing the most vulnerable children even deeper into poverty.
If legislators really want to improve educational outcomes for children whose families receive TANF, here are some policies that would actually make a difference.
Nov 02, 2012 | Permalink »
News Reports Highlight Why TANF Flexibility is Needed
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.
Dec 08, 2011 | Permalink »
Targeting Poor Children for Parents' Debts Is Bad Policy
Record budget gaps and deficit reduction debates have continuously threatened the existence of vital domestic programs on both the state and national level despite increased need and program success. The economic situation also has boosted states' efforts to collect overpayments and fines. In California these debt collectors are even going after poor children.
Recently, the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Public Interest Law Project filed a law suit against the California Department of Social Services for forcing children to repay old welfare debts of their parents or guardians. State officials claim regulations have allowed counties to go after minors to recoup debt for years, but only after efforts to recover funds from adults have been exhausted.
One recent newspaper story discussed the case of 14-year-old Irene Lara. The current $344 in monthly cash assistance payments her great-grandfather collects on her behalf will be reduced by 10 percent until she pays back $2,846 the state claims she owes. The overpayments occurred in another case more than ten years ago, around the time of Irene's birth. That case file has since been lost - making it impossible to know the cause of the overpayment - but Fresno County is holding Irene responsible.
Ohio has also been in the news recently for collecting welfare debts that were over a decade old. Earlier this week Michael Colbert, the head of its Department of Jobs and Family Services, announced that the state would only go after over payments that were a result of fraud, not state mistakes. He said, "We think it (the decision to collect old overpayments indefinitely) impacts a very vulnerable population, and my position is this population doesn't need this as public policy."
California should take a page from Ohio's book and revoke its policy to go after children whose families have received or are receiving TANF. The policy is especially egregious because it holds children responsible for state accounting errors and mistakes made by their parents years ago. Further, it only serves to make poor children even more vulnerable. Research shows that poor children in the United States are less likely than their counterparts in other developed countries to move out of poverty. Given that they are already disadvantaged, saddling them with parental debt is counterproductive in the extreme.
Currently California leads the nation with more than two million children living in poverty in 2010, yet it was one of six states to cut its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefit levels for 2011. Its vulnerable children should not be punished any more than they already have during this dire economic climate. Doing so will rob them of the chance to become self-sufficient and escape poverty.