TANF Waivers: Might Be a Good Thing

There has been much discussion lately about TANF Waivers and the idea that these Waivers will gut the current Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.  This is wrong; these Waivers will provide states the opportunity to tailor their programs to fit the needs of the people of their state.  This might be a good thing. State and local governments often have a better grasp on what families need then the federal government.  States also have a better grasp on the economic conditions which affect the families in their state.  In light of this issue, DAWG has pulled some information together which might provide a better understanding of the TANF Waivers.

Myth versus Fact

Myth:  The TANF program runs fine the way it is. Fact: The Secretary of Health and Human Services exercised her waiver authority in direct response to states expressing a strong interest in greater flexibility in TANF and indicated that greater flexibility could be used by states to improve program effectiveness.  In more impoverished states like West Virginia TANF is not working. Yes, there are less families receiving TANF but there are more families living substantially below the poverty line. Many families have left the TANF rolls not for employment, or because their income has increased but simply because they have timed out. TANF has not been a success and is not running fine as it is. If anything TANF completely gutted the safety net and left more families struggling with nowhere to turn. The decrease in TANF cases only show the lack of any real support to help families out of poverty. Just look at the numbers. Statistics from WVKidsCount. Kanawha County is our seat of government and McDowell County is the poorest county in the state. Free/Reduced Lunch is an excellent indicator of poverty as it shows families whose incomes are below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level.   Myth:  If states are provided waivers, we will be gutting the TANF program Fact: To the contrary, the waivers have the potential to improve the TANF program and help more families rise out of poverty. With states having the ability to tailor programs to the needs of families, the TANF program may finally be a success and actually move families out of poverty by allowing for better access to job training, higher education, and true employment.  The focus can be taken from the numbers (participation rates) and focus on the needs of families to provide them with the resources and skills to leave poverty for good.
Here are a few examples of potential programs from the memorandum sent by the Administration.
  • Projects that improve coordination with other components of the workforce investment system, including programs operated under the Workforce Investment Act, or to test an innovative approach to use performance-based contracts and management in order to improve employment outcomes.
  • Projects that demonstrate attainment of superior employment outcomes if a state is held accountable for negotiated employment outcomes in lieu of participation rate requirements.
  • Projects that improve collaboration with the workforce and/or post-secondary education systems to test multi-year career pathways models for TANF recipients that combine learning and work.
  • Projects that demonstrate strategies for more effectively serving individuals with disabilities, along with an alternative approach to measuring participation and outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
  • Projects that test the impact of a comprehensive universal engagement system in lieu of certain participation rate requirements.
  • Projects that test systematically extending the period in which vocational educational training or job search/readiness programs count toward participation rates, either generally or for particular subgroups, such as an extended training period for those pursuing a credential.  The purpose of such a waiver would be to determine through evaluation whether a program that allows for longer periods in certain activities improves employment outcomes.
  Myth:  More money will be shifted to welfare programs to implement waivers Fact: The TANF waiver option does not include a funding increase.  Instead, it gives states the ability to coordinate with other programs, such as workforce and higher education, to develop shared outcome expectations. The federal TANF block grant funding has stayed flat since its enactment in 1996.  This has hindered states from being able to respond to the large increase in the number of families in poverty due to the recent economic crisis.   DAWG still disagrees with the overall TANF program but we do see the potential the TANF Waivers may bring.  These waivers may actually be a tool that states can use to finally do what is needed and provide families with access to higher education and training that will raise them out of poverty for good instead of warehousing them in minimum wage dead- end jobs just to meet the participation rate requirements now in place.  

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