OFA Brief Incorporates CLASP’s Recommendations for TANF Work-Study Programs

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family Assistance (OFA) published a brief outlining how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) agencies can support postsecondary completion for TANF recipients. OFA recommends using TANF dollars to fund work-study programs, an approach CLASP has supported for years.

TANF benefits are time limited and relatively small. Consequently, parents can only escape poverty and become economically secure by obtaining stable employment with higher-than-minimum wages. Postsecondary credentials are essential to securing these jobs in today’s economy. Unfortunately, many states fail to provide TANF recipients access to postsecondary education or training opportunities because of TANF’s work participation rate (WPR) requirements, which incentivizes states to place recipients in low-wage, low-skilled jobs in order to meet federal quotas.

To address these challenges, OFA recommends engaging TANF recipients in work-study programs, allowing students to earn money at part-time jobs while they participate in education or training that leads to economic stability. This approach also eases the burden on state TANF agencies; under federal guidelines, work-study can be counted as “core” activities toward the WPR. Taken alone without a work component, TANF recipients’ postsecondary education can only be counted toward work requirements for 12 months over their lifetime.

Federal Work-Study (FWS) provides part-time employment to students who demonstrate financial need; these jobs are typically on campus and designed to accommodate student schedules. However, these funds are limited, and schools typically provide just 10-15 hours per week (not enough to meet the federal WPR). The OFA brief highlights several states, including Kentucky, California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, that use TANF funds to provide additional work-study opportunities for TANF participants.

Strategies to create and enhance work-study programs for TANF participants include:

  • Combining work-study with education and training to meet federal work participation requirements;
  • Providing on-campus support staff for work-study participants;
  • Ensuring work-study income does not affect TANF eligibility;
  • Supporting work-study positions with fair wages in relevant experience areas; and
  • Targeting campuses with the greatest institutional need.

States should encourage postsecondary completion for TANF-eligible parents by funding work-study programs. This will help families achieve economic stability and mobility while allowing state agencies to count postsecondary education activities toward the WPR. CLASP also supports innovations that improve students’ access to income support programs, promoting college completion and future self-sufficiency.