Congress contemplating reauthorization of major welfare program during lame duck session

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Senate introduces legislation reauthorizing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program through FY 2021 Senate TANF reauthorization proposal would offer additional flexibility for families and county administration of the program

On November 27, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee released a bipartisan discussion draft of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) legislation, which would reauthorize the program for three-years through FY 2021. The TANF program has operated on a series of short-term extensions since the last major reauthorization expired in 2010.  

Reauthorization of the program provides lawmakers an opportunity to reassess TANF, and the Senate’s legislation takes important steps toward renewing the program by improving program effectiveness and helping recipients obtain and maintain employment. Counties administer TANF in nearly a dozen states across the country, providing services to 51 percent of all TANF recipients. In these states, counties contribute significant local funds to administrative and supplemental costs of running TANF.

NACo supports a long-term reauthorization of the TANF program and encourages Congress to increase TANF funds annually at an amount commensurate with the rate of inflation to ensure the program’s effectiveness in assisting families in poverty. 

The Senate’s TANF reauthorization bill contains several proposals of importance to counties:

The Senate’s bill would strengthen program results for recipients by improving Individual Opportunity Plans (IOPs) developed with county agencies. In addition to developing an initial assessment of each recipient, counties would be encouraged to develop new IOPs that include an employment plan with short and long-term goals to help the individual become and remain employed, as well as a description of support services the state and county will provide to prepare the individual for the workforce.

The bill would implement a uniform work requirement for one-parent and two-parent families, simplifying administrative requirements. The proposal would make all families subject to the same 30 hours per week work participation rate requirement. NACo supports this provision as it will allow flexibility for families who may struggle with multiple barriers to meet higher work participation requirements due to disabilities, mental health issues, domestic violence and substance use disorders.

The Senate’s bill would support substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation services to help TANF recipients search for and find work. Under current law, if a TANF recipient participates in substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment or rehabilitation activities for a certain number of hours per week, it may count as a “work activity” for up to six-weeks. In contrast, under the Senate proposal, this six-week limit may be extended to twelve-weeks to provide the individual additional time to search for and obtain employment.

The bill would eliminate TANF marriage penalties. The legislation would require states to disregard the income and resources of a new spouse for at least 12 months when calculating benefits. This provision would ensure that individuals who receive TANF and who marry are not disadvantaged as a result of this decision. Counties support this provision and oppose penalties associated with marriage promotion outcomes.

The Senate’s bill would allow states and counties to receive partial credit for a recipient’s number of hours worked. Under this provision, states would be allowed to count individuals engaging in work activities for some hours towards the set work participation rate for the state.

After releasing an initial discussion draft, the Senate Finance Committee sought comments on the draft legislation related to work participation requirements, program effectiveness and participant engagement. In response to NACo’s comments, the committee altered legislative language before formally introducing the bill.

NACo will continue working with legislators throughout the remainder of 2018 to ensure that a short-term TANF reauthorization is included in the end-of-year spending deal as legislators continue working on a long-term reauthorization package.

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