States Missing Opportunities to Count Education and Training Toward TANF Work Rates

By Lavanya Mohan and Elizabeth Lower-Basch

In today’s economy, individuals with a high school diploma or less make less money and are more likely to be unemployed than other workers. More than 2 in 5 adult recipients of cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) have less than a high school diploma.

While TANF recipients are allowed to participate in education and training activities, federal rules limit the extent to which participation in such activities can be counted toward the work participation rate (WPR) that states are required to meet.  Since this is TANF’s primary performance measure, states that do not meet their target WPR can lose a portion of their funding. These spending constraints are further compounded by the failure of states to take full advantage of the flexibility they do have. Even at the peak of the recession, only about 10 percent of recipients were counted toward the work participation rate based on education or training activites.

Under federal regulations, up to 30 percent of parents counted in the TANF work rate may be teenagers who attend school or recipients who participate in vocational education as a standalone work activity.  However, in FY 2010, the majority of states came nowhere near that limit. 

In a recent publication, Ensuring Full Credit Under TANF’s Work Participation Rate,  CLASP highlights the opportunities that states have to count individuals participating in education and training toward the TANF work rate.  In addition to taking full advantage of the 30 percent cap on full-time educational activities, states can also help participants combine educational activities with subsidized employment (such as work-study) or work experience (including practicum classes).  Allowing more parents to engage in education and training activities will help them get the credentials they need to secure good jobs provide for their families.