TANF Education and Training Resources

Due to a combination of TANF work participation rate requirements, various federal regulations, and a general “work first” approach, many states have provided few opportunities for TANF recipients to participate in education and training.  However, some states have bucked this trend by creating successful education and training programs in spite of limits imposed by federal rules.  Below are resources that highlight innovative state strategies, opportunities, and CLASP federal policy recommendations on education and training within the TANF program.

  •  – Anna Cielinski, CLASP (May 2017)
    Low-income parents who participate in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) need better, more accessible job training and support services to obtain family-sustaining work. To accomplish this, it’s important to coordinate TANF’s welfare-to-work programs with federal workforce development services that are currently available to other unemployed and underemployed workers. 
  • Expanding Education and Training Opportunities Under TANF: A Path to Stable Employment in Today’s Economy – Randi Hall, CLASP (July 2016)
    The TANF benefits are time-limited and relatively meager, the only way for parents to escape poverty and achieve long-term family economic security is by obtaining stable employment at higher than minimum wages. In today’s economy, such jobs typically require at least some education and training at the postsecondary level. However, most TANF programs remain stuck in a “work-first” approach and are failing to connect recipients to education and training that leads to an employer-valued credentials.

Innovative State Strategies for Education and Training using the TANF Program

  • Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative: Supporting Adult Student Success – Wayne Taliaferro, CLASP (October 2017)
    The ongoing work in Arkansas provides clear evidence that state systems and resources work best when they are targeted to those who need them the most. Increasing equity strengthens attainment, bolsters socioeconomic mobility and boosts state economies. States should build on this approach and remain cautious about the consequences of decisions that disrupt progress toward these outcomes.
  • Recent Study Highlights Success of the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative – Judy Mortrude, CLASP (April 2016)
    At a time of constrained state budgets, it is important that policymakers leverage and distribute existing resources in ways that reach the students who need that support the most. In Arkansas, state higher education leaders are doing just that.
  • New York City Rethinks TANF Work Programs for the 21st CenturyElizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP (October 2014)
    New York City’s Human Resources Administration released a draft Employment Plan that includes incorporates what we know about what workers need to succeed in today’s economy, including connecting recipients to career pathways programs that lead to sustainable employment and developing models to support highly vulnerable populations.
  • A Step in the Right Direction, Minnesota Expands Access to TANF Education and Training Activities – Lavanya Mohan, CLASP (July 2014)
    Signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton (D-MN), bill HF2458 expands access to adult basic education (ABE), General Educational Development (GED), English as a Second Language (ESL) and postsecondary education for participants receiving cash assistance from the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), the state-administered TANF program. The legislation allows MFIP participants unlimited participation in these education activities as part of their employment plan without requiring enrollment in other work activities. 
  • Nebraska’s Employment First ProgramLavanya Mohan, CLASP (February 2014)
    The Employment First Program allows parents who receive TANF cash assistance to pursue postsecondary education and adult basic education, GED and ESL courses, along with wraparound services, that improves their ability to secure employment and long-term economic success.
  • Oklahoma’s Special Projects Program – Elizabeth Kenefick, CLASP (July 2011)
    The Special Projects provide a comprehensive range of services to help TANF recipients successfully pursue postsecondary degrees and credentials at Oklahoma’s community colleges and technology center campuses. Students participate in a “joint staffing” to create a career pathway plan and determine the appropriate next steps for eventually securing employment.
  • Maine’s Parents as Scholars – Josh Bone, CLASP (July 2010)
    Parents as Scholars program provides a range of services to Maine TANF participants who are pursuing two-year or four-year postsecondary degrees.  Students who participate in PaS receive a range of support services, including transportation, child care, required books and supplies that are not covered by financial aid grants.
  • Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative – Josh Bone, CLASP (April 2010)
    CPI allows students to choose among various education and training pathways that lead to jobs in high-demand fields that pay family-sustaining wages. Students receive support services, tutoring, and counseling.
  • Pennsylvania’s Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Program – Josh Bone, CLASP (April 2010)
    KEYS provides support services and counseling to students pursuing postsecondary education and training at community colleges while allowing those students up to 24 months (with the possibility of extensions) to complete their degrees and credentials.
  • Kentucky’s Ready-to-Work Program – Josh Bone, CLASP (January 2010)
    Ready-to-Work provides students with a comprehensive set of counseling and support services and opportunities for work-study. Students can pursue postsecondary degrees and credentials, education leading to a GED, and/or remedial education.

Opportunities to use the TANF Program to Support Education and Training

  • Work Activities and TANF – Elizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP (December 2014)
    This webinar provides information on current work activities guidelines required by TANF recipients and discusses the use of the work participation rate as an effective measure of self-sufficiency and successful state programming.
  • States Missing Opportunities to Count Education and Training Toward TANF Work Rates – Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Lavanya Mohan, CLASP (April 2014)
    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.
  • Ensuring Full Credit Under TANF’s Work Participation RateElizabeth Lower-Basch, Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield and Lavanya Mohan, CLASP (March 2014)
    This brief highlights ways that states may count or combine work activities to get full credit for their measured work participation rate. It also explains changes that programs can make to improve their alignment with the TANF rules and make it easier for caseworkers to refer TANF participants. 
  • Navigating Federal Programs to Build Sustainable Career Pathways in the Health Professions: A Guide for HPOG Programs– Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Neil Ridley, CLASP (March 2013)
    In order to help education and training providers provide the most effective and accessible services, CLASP has issued a report to assist organizations operating health care career pathways programs under a Health Professions Opportunity Grant (HPOG) and groups operating programs whose students participate in TANF, workforce, or adult education programs. The report explains the requirements and performance accountability systems of TANF and the workforce and adult education programs supported under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Titles I and II. It also discusses specific strategies that states can use to overcome potential barriers caused by the disparate requirements of these programs.
  • Funding Career Pathways and Career Pathway Bridges: TANF CLASP (October 2010)
    To combat the disconnect between the education and training systems and the labor market and ease the transition into postsecondary education, many states are adopting a career pathways approach to providing education and training to low-skilled adults and out-of-school youth. Career pathways are linked education and training services that “enable students, often while they are working, to advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment in a given industry or occupational sector.”* Career pathways is not a separate program in itself but rather a framework that weaves together existing adult education, training, and college programs into a pathway that streamlines the path to postsecondary education and credentials. CLASP developed the Funding Career Pathways and Career Pathway Bridges Toolkit to help interagency state teams identify and use federal resources to support these models.  The TANF program was a federal resource identified.
  • Education and Training for TANF Recipients: Opportunities and Challenges under the Final Rule Elizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP (March 2008)
    This report from CLASP and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is intended to guide state administrators and advocates as they consider implementing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provisions of the 2006 federal budget, called the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA). It has been updated to reflect the Interim Final Rule and guidance issued by HHS in response to states’ Work Verification Plans.  

Federal Policy Recommendations on Education and Training within the TANF Program

  • Getting Incentives Right: Connecting Low-Income Individuals with Jobs – Elizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP (March 2016)
    Testimony for the record to the Subcommittee on Human Resources in the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the ways that TANF and other human services programs can more effectively connect low-income individuals with jobs.
  • TANF’s Role in Expanding Economic Opportunity Julie Strawn, CLASP (April 2010)
    Testimony of Julie Strawn at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the role of education and training in the TANF program.
  • Improving Access to Education and Training for TANF ParticipantsElizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP (May 2007)
    The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant is one of the major sources of funding for services designed to help low-income parents succeed in the workplace. The TANF law limits the degree to which states can count TANF families engaged in education and training activities toward federal work participation rate requirements–an unfortunate limitation, given the strong link between educational attainment and earnings. In this two-pager, CLASP recommends that Congress remove these arbitrary limits on education and training.