House introduces legislation to reauthorize anti-poverty cash assistance program

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House Ways & Means releases draft TANF reauthorization bill, proposed changes could impact counties.

On May 8, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee introduced a discussion draft of legislation to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The draft bill, titled the Joining Opportunity with Benefits and Services for Success (JOBS) Act, would reauthorize TANF for five years through FY 2023 and fund child care and job training programs. Program funding for TANF is set to expire September 30, 2018, although the program has been extended each year since reauthorization lapsed in 2010.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), TANF operates as a partnership between the federal government and states to ensure low-income families have the resources to care for children at home. Another objective of TANF is to reduce vulnerable families’ dependence on federal assistance by promoting job preparation, work and marriage. TANF program funds can be used for cash assistance, as well as non-cash assistance programs such as child care, job training and work supports. States require that certain individuals participate in work activities in exchange for TANF benefits.

In ten states, counties administer TANF at the local level: California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The draft bill would reshape the TANF program by expanding work requirements, establishing state performance metrics, restructuring the TANF funding formula and modifying program transfers. Specifically, the legislation would take the following steps:

  • Replace TANF’s work participation rates with a universal work requirement for all work-eligible adults. The legislation, if enacted, would require all work-eligible individuals to engage in work or work preparation activities for at least 30 hours per week for a single parent with children over six years old, or 35 hours per week combined for a two-parent family. Single parents with children under six years old would be required to work an average of 20 hours a week per month. Agencies would work with TANF’s work-eligible recipients to establish an individual opportunity plan outlining employment expectations and supports, among other provisions. In addition, states would have sole discretion to define work activities as long as they are consistent with current TANF provisions.

    The proposal to expand work requirements to all work-eligible adults represents a departure from TANF’s current provisions, which require states to meet two work participation benchmarks, including a rule that 50 percent of TANF families with work-eligible adults in the state are engaged for a minimum number of hours per month in work activities in exchange for TANF benefits, as well as a provision stating 90 percent of TANF families with two work-eligible adults are engaged in qualifying work activities.
  • Add new employment and earnings outcomes measurements to track states’ performance in transitioning TANF recipients into employment opportunities. Starting in FY 2020, states would be required to negotiate with HHS to develop outcome-based performance metrics for TANF programs, such as the percentages of certain work-eligible individuals enrolled in secondary schools and work-eligible individuals in unsubsidized employment after ending their TANF benefits. States would be required to publish information on their program performance levels.
  • Restructure the TANF funding formula. Under the proposed changes, there would be a new state matching grant, which states would be required to spend on “core” activities (assistance, work and work supports). Each state’s match would be based on the number of children in families below the federal poverty line.
  • Modify TANF program transfers. The draft bill would no longer allow states to transfer TANF funds to the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) and would prohibit states from using TANF dollars directly toward child care or child welfare. Furthermore, up to 50 percent of TANF mandatory funds could be transferred to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), consistent with the law for those programs.

NACo supports a long-term reauthorization of the TANF program. However, if enacted, these proposals could affect how TANF is administered at the local level. The addition of new work requirements, for example, could increase administrative burdens on counties in states where federal assistance programs are county-administered. In these states, counties play a central role in financing and delivering safety-net programs to residents. The addition of new work requirements could also lead to more individuals becoming dependent on county programs if residents are no longer eligible for welfare services. NACo has expressed concerns over the implementation of stricter work requirements.

Additionally, the modifications to TANF program transfers could also impact counties’ ability to provide services to our most vulnerable residents. For example, funds transferred from TANF into SSBG help counties and states provide essential services, such as child welfare and disability services, to low-income children and families. Similar to TANF, SSBG is county-administered in ten states.

The House Ways and Means Committee is likely to consider a TANF reauthorization later this month. However, the bill’s prospects moving forward remain unclear. The U.S. Senate has not yet introduced reauthorization legislation for TANF, and Congress is expected to first finalize the 2018 reauthorization of the farm bill before moving forward on TANF.

NACo will continue to monitor developments around TANF reauthorization and advocate for key county priorities in any final package.

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