National Council of Women's Organizations
Domestic Priorities Task Force
Recommendations for TANF Reauthorization
The purpose of welfare is to help families in need achieve self-sufficiency. The following principles are essential to a comprehensive welfare policy:
The goal of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Block Grant (TANF) programs should be to move families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency by ensuring that all families have adequate resources to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. This goal can be accomplished by supporting caregivers, promoting education and training for jobs that pay a self-supporting wage, and safeguarding access to other public supports while respecting family privacy and women's autonomy in family choices. States must ensure equitable treatment of all needy families and should not discriminate among families based on marital status, race, gender, disability, recipient status, legal immigrant status, and language barriers, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation.
How can we best invest in families in need?
An important goal of welfare reform is to provide women and families with the opportunity to become fully self-sufficient, meeting their needs of daily living and to contribute to the growth and well-being of their communities. The purpose of Temporary Assistance to Needy Family programs should be to provide the necessary resources to become self-sufficient, not just to reduce caseloads. Congress should prohibit states from diverting people from applying, refusing to accept an application for assistance, or giving an individual reason to believe that the state would not unconditionally, immediately accept an application.
Families should be guaranteed a minimum benefit regardless of their state of residence. Congress should ensure that all families receive a combination of cash assistance and work supports to meet their daily costs of living. Currently, maximum annual benefits for a family of one adult and two children range from a low of $1,968 in Alabama to a high of $11,076 in Alaska (Welfare Information Network et al. 2001). Congress should require states to evaluate families for their eligibility for other benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, child care, housing, and transportation assistance. Congress should also provide funds to states for outreach to families in need who are eligible but not receiving assistance or other benefits. In addition, the application procedures for services should be simplified.
The funds allocated to TANF should be increased to reflect inflation and individual state's unemployment and poverty levels and to ensure uniform minimum benefits. Any bonuses should be associated with poverty reduction. Federal funding should be increased for proven poverty-reduction programs and states that spend in excess of required levels on poverty programs. In addition, the distribution of federal funding should be readjusted to reflect current state needs, rather than 1994 state spending levels. TANF should fund proven poverty reduction programs, rather than experimental programs promoting marriage.
Congress should support families who are playing by the rules. Time limits and sanctions undermine efforts to reduce poverty and provide a social safety net for families. Some studies estimate, based on GAO monthly tabulations, that well over 500,000 families' cases have been closed due to sanctions and 85,000 due to time limits (Bloom and Winstead 2002). Barring the repeal of current time limit and sanction provisions, the following policy recommendations are made. Congress should suspend the clock for those families who are complying with work activities by engaging in any of the following: paid employment, educational pursuits, job training, services to overcome employment barriers, or full-time care for young children, an ill family member or any domestic partner. Congress should also suspend time limits for those families facing serious hardships. Recipients should not be sanctioned for failing to comply with work requirements during periods of recession or high unemployment, and states should not be allowed to impose full-family sanctions in any case (36 states currently use full-family sanctions). Finally, Congress should establish mechanisms for reconsideration for assistance or hardship exemptions for families who remain income eligible and who have timed out or been sanctioned.
States should be given full freedom to provide education and training to welfare recipients and should be encouraged to use TANF funds for this purpose. Access to quality, comprehensive education and training is one of the most effective tools for promoting economic well-being among low-income women. A vast body of research documents the relationship between education and earnings among low skilled workers (see Tally, 2002). The definition of work in the welfare law should be broadened to include vocational training without the current arbitrary twelve-month limit; education, including elementary and secondary education, literacy, ESL, GED; and higher education. The 30 percent cap on the number of recipients who can count education and training activities as work should be eliminated. Education and training services implemented and offered through the Workforce Investment Act should be coordinated with services offered to current and former TANF clients.
Countable work activities should be broadened to include any activities that will improve the family's economic and social well-being. Work activities should include: full-time care for young children; care for a family member or domestic partner with a serious health condition; and participation in activities designed to address domestic or sexual violence, mental illness, substance abuse, disability or serious health condition. Skills assessment tests should be made available to all individuals before work activities are assigned.
The Self-Sufficiency Standard should be used to measure outcomes for welfare leavers. The Standard is a measure of the actual costs of living for families of various sizes and composition in counties throughout the United States. The Standard, which will have been developed in 35 states by the close of 2002, provides welfare leavers with a benchmark income to strive for as they progress in the workforce and demonstrates how wages and work supports-such as child care, food stamps, and housing assistance-can be combined to help families meet basic needs in the near-term, while they gain experience and skills to move into better jobs. The Standard provides detailed and consistent data about how the states are faring in meeting the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act's (PRWORA) goal of moving families to self-sufficiency. Absent this data, there will be no accurate way to measure the success of welfare reform.
Reauthorization of TANF should take into account housing cost burdens and the contribution stable housing makes to successful employment. Research has documented significantly higher employment rates and earnings for welfare leavers who received housing assistance. Only 30 percent of TANF recipients receive housing subsidies, and a typical family that leaves welfare must pay 57 percent of its total income for decent, modest housing. States should be allowed to use TANF and MOE funds for housing in the same manner as the other work supports like child care, and not define it as "assistance," which starts the time clock after four months, even for families not receiving TANF cash benefits. Funds should be provided to HHS as part of a HUD-HHS demonstration of housing with services for families with multiple barriers to work.
The TANF program should develop better strategies for identifying and addressing the problems of families with barriers to employment and healthy family functioning. Many of those left on the rolls have been unable to transition into work because they are managing one or more barriers-including physical impairment, mental health problems, learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, substance abuse, or domestic or sexual violence. In a recent study, 85 percent of welfare recipients reported facing at least one barrier to employment. Multiple barriers were common-almost two-thirds of the women had two or more potential barriers to work, and over one-quarter had four or more. Moreover, the more barriers a woman had, the less likely she was to be working (Danziger, et al. 2000). These individuals are often pushed to the side, with little or no services provided. TANF Reauthorization must remedy this situation by requiring states to train caseworkers to properly screen for barriers and to provide assessment and recommendations for appropriate services qualified professionals. Individuals with barriers must have access to appropriate services in order to overcome the barrier(s) and leave poverty. True commitment to this goal will mean ensuring notice to all recipients, full confidentiality, quality, comprehensive services and a system in place to ensure individuals are not being sanctioned as a result of a barrier.
TANF programs should be focused on proven paths out of povertynot marriage proposals. TANF should be about helping families achieve economic security. In order to achieve this goal, TANF should invest resources in strategies that have been proven to work, specifically: education, training for good jobs, and work supports. Tax payer dollars should not be expended on unproven, experimental programs designed to promote marriage among America's poor. All Americans share a fundamental right to make private decisions regarding marriage and child bearing. TANF must not take advantage of the economic desperation of women on welfare in an attempt to coerce them into marriage. This is particularly crucial in light of the staggering prevalence of domestic violence among women on welfare. Sixty percent of women on welfare have been subjected to domestic violence as an adult, 30% within the past 12 months. This reality makes marriage promotion not only unwise, but also unsafe. TANF must focus on realistic solutions to ending poverty, not on knights in shining armor and story book endings.
Abstinence-only funding should be opened up to fund proven, comprehensive approaches to sexuality education and pregnancy prevention that discuss contraception. There are no published studies in the professional literature that show that abstinence-only programs work to delay the onset of sexual intercourse among young people (Advocates for Youth 2001). In contrast numerous peer-reviewed studies have found that programs covering both abstinence and contraception can delay the onset of intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse, and reduce the number of sexual partners (Kirby 1997). In 1999, nearly half of all students in grades 9-12 had engaged in sexual intercourse. In seeking to reduce the number of future welfare recipients, Congress must support comprehensive approaches that give youth the skills and knowledge to make responsible choices.
Reauthorization of TANF should recognize the value of unpaid caregiving work and the impact caregiving responsibilities have on opportunities for paid work. Three-fourths of all caregivers are women and more than 40 percent of caregivers to older persons also have children under the age of 18 (see Business and Professional Women/USA, "101 Facts on the Status of Working Women"). Of households involved in caregiving, 10 percent left work permanently; 11 percent report taking a leave of absence; and 7.3 percent took a part-time or less demanding job. Employed caregivers are more likely to miss work, experience losing a job or career opportunity, experience negative economic impacts, and are two to three times more likely to develop depression. In an effort to support caregiving work, countable work activities should be broadened to include full-time care for young children and care for a family member with a serious health condition. In addition, the clock on time limits should be suspended for caregiving work.
Child care and early childhood education ought to be viewed as a public responsibility and every child in this country should have access to high quality, publicly-funded child care and education. This right is especially important for lower income families who may need public assistance and for whom high quality, accessible and affordable infant, toddler, pre-kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, after-school and summer child care programs is absolutely essential. Without access to those publicly-supported programs, low income families are seriously impeded in their path to economic stability and the safety and well-being of young children is placed at risk. Child care subsidy programs as funded by federal and state governments have never come close to providing full funding for slots to every eligible child. In fact, the primary government subsidy program, the Child Care Development Block Grant Program (CCDBG), is funded to only 12 percent of need. A second important early education and enrichment program, Head Start, is funded only at two-thirds of projected need. Above all other services for families in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, child care funding must be given a top priority and fully funded to meet 100 percent of need. Improving the quality of child care programs and increasing the wages of child care workers should be established as important criteria for evaluation of the child care program.
Children should benefit directly from child support payments made on their behalf. Research suggests that child support paid directly to the family does have positive impacts-ranging from greater financial stability to improvements in the child's school participation (see Shields and Behrman 2002). As an incentive for non-custodial parents to participate in the formal child support system, Congress should instruct states to pass through all child support payments for needy children rather than using those payments to fund state programs. Congress should also prohibit states from retaining past-assignment child support payments. Congress should require all means-tested programs to disregard 100 percent of child support payments to families below the poverty line and phase out this disregard for families up to 200 percent of the poverty line. In order to defray the increased cost to states, Congress should provide financial support to cover costs associated with the pass-through and disregard requirements. The participation of custodial parents in the child support system should be voluntary, and recipients should no longer be required to assign child support rights to the state.
All programs that offer temporary assistance to needy families must ensure fairness and also respect the individual rights of participants. Discrimination violates the fundamental tenet that all individuals should be treated equally and with dignity. Yet, discrimination continues to impact individuals by causing gender and racial inequities in pay, funneling women and minorities into sex-typed and race-typed jobs, and limiting personal freedom and choice. In the welfare system, recent research indicates that language barriers and lack of interpreters is resulting in barriers to access to benefits (Make the Road by Walking); that black welfare recipients are sorted into lower paying occupations, are paid less, and face more stringent pre-hiring skills tests than their white counterparts (Gooden 1997); and that caseworkers are more generous with transportation benefits for white TANF recipients (Gooden 1999). TANF applicants and recipients, including those engaged in workfare, are entitled to the same protections under federal and state civil rights and labor laws as other individuals. Individuals who are engaged in workfare are employees for purposes of federal and state civil rights and labor laws. Services and information should be provided in native languages and with consideration for varying literacy levels.
All families, regardless of immigration status, should have equal access to assistance. At a minimum, Congress should provide equal access to public assistance for legal immigrants and citizens. Both legal immigrants and citizens support public programs with their tax dollars. Yet, many legal immigrants are denied access to the welfare system, which has meant that among eligible citizen children of immigrant parents, 33 percent lack health insurance and 72 percent do not receive food stamps (Ku and Blaney 2000; Castner 2000). Denying legal immigrants equal access to public assistance leaves their families socially and economically vulnerable. Congress should remove the waiting period and discount the sponsor's income when determining welfare eligibility.
Welfare policies should not discriminate against or punish children based on the circumstances of their birth. Congress should prohibit states from denying or limiting assistance to a child born into a family already receiving assistance. Such policies are intended to reduce childbearing among unwed parents and to prevent women from having more children for the sole purpose of increasing their cash benefits. Research suggests, though, that cash assistance does not influence women's childbearing decisions, making the Family Cap an unnecessary source of economic hardship. Furthermore, families receiving welfare are no more likely to have large families than families not receiving welfare. Family caps reduce the already limited resources available to children in need of assistance and, as such, directly contradict the intended goals of the TANF program.
The need for assistance should not result in a welfare recipient's loss of their right to privacy and confidentiality. States should not be allowed to require recipients to respond to surveys conducted to obtain information for quarterly reports. Any information provided by an individual should be disclosed only to the extent that is necessary to administer the program and when consent is granted.
States should be required to provide reliable and specific information on why welfare recipients leave welfare, including information about what is happening to welfare recipients once they move into the workforce. Reliable information on what happens to those who receive and leave welfare is critical for assessing the effectiveness of the country's welfare programs. Currently, the data that states are required to report is insufficient to assess how well the state programs are working. Although a number of states have conducted their own studies of outcomes for welfare leavers, the information they do report is not comparable across states. In a recent survey, only 10 states were able to report the number of teen parents participating in TANF (Levin-Epstein 2001). States should be required to apply the Self-Sufficiency Standard when measuring the success of welfare leavers. States should also be rewarded for helping welfare recipient find work, keep jobs, and increase their wages, rather than rewarding them for lowering their caseloads and out-of-wedlock births.
Charitable organizations must be held to the same strict standards of nondiscrimination to which the federal government would be held under the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Charitable organizations have a long history of good work with the poor and are to be commended for their efforts. But, if charitable organizations are to act on the federal government's behalf, Congress must ensure that they pursue the same strict policies of nondiscrimination that the federal government is committed to uphold. As such, programs taking federal dollars to do welfare work must not proselytize to the individuals they serve, not in any way interfere with the individuals' freedom to practice or not practice her own religion. Moreover, they must be bound by federal civil rights laws that prohibit employment discrimination. If Charitable Organizations instead prefer to espouse their religious beliefs and hire those who share those beliefs, they may do so-they simply may not fund those practices with TANF dollars.
Advocates for Youth and Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). 2001. Toward a Sexually Healthy America.
Bloom, Dan and Don Winstead. 2002. "Sanctions and Welfare Reform." Welfare Reform Brief. 12(January): 8.
Business and Professional Women/USA. 2002. "101 Facts on the Status of Working Women".
Castner, Laura. 2000. Trends in FSP Participation Rates: Focus on 1994-1998. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. November.
Danziger, Sandra et al. 1997, revised February 2000. "Barriers to the Employment of Welfare Recipients".
Gooden, Susan T. Spring 1999. "The Secret Truth about Race and Welfare." GRIPP News & Notes, vol. 1.
Gooden, Susan T. January 1997. "Race and Welfare Report: Examining Racial Differences in Employment Status among Welfare Recipients." Gripp Report.
Kirby, Douglas. 1997. No Easy Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Ku, Leighton and Shannon Blaney. 2000. Health Coverage for Legal Immigrant Children: New Census Data Highlight Importance of Restoring Medicaid and SCHIP Coverage. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. October.
Levin-Epstein, Jodie, Myra Batchelder, and Christine Grisham. 2001. "Regarding Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Teen Parents Provisions in the TANF Block Grant." Comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Center for Law and Social Policy. November.
Make the Road by Walking. "System Failure." The report can be found at: www.maketheroad.org
Savner, Steve, Julie Strawn, and Mark Greenberg. 2002. "TANF Reauthorization: Opportunities to Reduce Poverty by Improving Employment Outcomes." Washington, D.C.: Center for Law and Social Policy, January.
Shields, Margie K. and Richard E. Behrman. 2002. "Children and Welfare Reform: Analysis and Recommendations." The Future of Children. 12(1): 21.
Tally, M.K. 2002. "Job Training and Education Fight Poverty." Washington, D.C.: Institute for Women's Policy Research.
Welfare Information Network, National Governors' Association, Association of Public Human Service Agencies, and Administration for Children and Families. 2001. State Plan Database. Accessed July 2001.
Zedlewski, S., and P. Loprest. 2001. Will TANF Work for Most Disadvantaged Families? In The New World of Welfare, R.M. Blank and R. Haskins, eds. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.
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