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Adequate funding of the TANF block grant is critical.

The original amount of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant has not been increased since the original program was enacted in 1996. Thirteen years of decline in the buying power of TANF must be addressed in a serious manner during the TANF reauthorization debate. When TANF legislation was originally passed, Congress asked states to continue on their path of reforming welfare and help advance the ability of poor families to function and succeed at home and in the workplace. In addition, there was recognition that part of this charge included prevention activities to avoid the pitfalls of poverty and ensure the safety of children. States vigorously developed the programs and services to meet that responsibility using wide-ranging possibilities and what was then adequate funding provided by TANF. The result has been a wide variety of programs and services designed to provide safety to families and a mixture of interventions to engage family functioning issues to achieve the desired end--a self-supporting family. The flexibility of TANF has resulted in myriad TANF partnerships with other funding sources, employers, community and faith-based organizations, and state and local government services to achieve the common goal. TANF has worked intimately with other community services to advance a shared principle and has become a powerful part of communities' approaches to problems of poverty. As financial assistance caseloads decreased over the years, attention and dollars shifted to enhancing and creating effective resources to help those off assistance to stay off.

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The basic TANF federal block grant funding has remained flat since 1996. The needs of the population served by TANF funding, however, have shifted since then. Many states report serving families with persons who tend to have higher rates of physical, mental and learning disabilities than their counterparts who left welfare in the late 1990s. States and employers have experienced alarming challenges in terms of finding a prepared workforce because of the increased high school dropout rate, the increase in drug addictions, and a changing workforce that requires skill sets obtained through additional education and training. In keeping with the goals of helping families reach economic stability through work, states are faced with meeting the needs of an employment sector that expects skills beyond just willingness to work. Families cannot support themselves independent of public assistance on low-wage work anymore.

In addition, other federal funding has not kept up with growing needs, such as child care for working families, with the result that states must devote limited TANF funds to these types of services to help achieve success for parents. The significant need for child safety and the serious effort to help families develop a strong connection to the workforce has become a grim challenge in determining what gets funded. The reauthorization debate is occurring in one of the most difficult economic struggles in memory--one that has left states in varying conditions of economic hardship. Under these conditions, the need for increasing the block grant without considering states' ability to access the funds does not go far enough in the TANF funding debate. The method of access for new monies must address the current reality that states have few resources and options.

The current block grant amount and structure should be retained to ensure that there are no decreases in funding and that states continue to have the ability to retain unexpended dollars. States will continue to be responsible for the grant's maintenance-of-effort requirements. However, new dollars are well justified, and the increased funds should be determined by using the Consumer Price Index based on CPI changes since 1996. The CPI is a reasonable method to adjust and index the TANF funding levels, and avoids any complications caused by including the affects of various legitimate choices on how dollars are spent in each state.

To address the realities of the differing abilities that states have in increasing state expenditures and in keeping with the original intent of Congress for states to have an obligation in funding TANF, any new dollars made available should not require a mandatory increase in the MOE.

The National Association of State TANF Administrators hopes that Congress recognizes the importance of other funding resources necessary to support TANF families. The adequate funding of CCDF, child welfare Title IV-B funds, and the Social Services Block Grant make a difference to needy families and their ability to be successful in finding and keeping a job.

There is no surprise that in our current national economic crisis, the TANF Contingency Fund is needed beyond its capacity to answer the growing demand. Although Congress did not foresee a national recession and funded the Contingency Fund at a level tailored for regional economic disasters, our experience now tells us how important this fund is in helping states weather the present economic storm. The Contingency Fund must have adequate funds to answer that need. Congress should review the adequacy of the funding at least every three years. Through experience, we now know that at a time of severe human and monetary distress the expectation for a state to produce 100 percent MOE to access the Contingency Fund is unreasonable. Eliminating the 100 percent MOE provision, as well as allowing states to count the same MOE expenditures that are allowable in TANF MOE rules, are both necessary changes. The contingency triggers are adequate to establish a serious need. NASTA urges Congress and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to refine and improve the Contingency Fund process during reauthorization. For example, the timeframes for the triggers should be evaluated because of the data processing burdens associated with the current methodology; instead, eligibility for the Contingency Fund should be determined for a calendar year quarter or longer and once eligible, a state should be allowed to carry forward the funds received. Currently, states have to develop alternative plans to address the potential of not being able to retain the funds once received.

The TANF Supplemental Grants received by 17 states are designed to establish equity in the distribution of funds when TANF was first passed. These invaluable funds should be permanently incorporated into the basic block grant for each of the supplemental states and the separate expiration date eliminated. Congress has demonstrated over the years its intent to provide these dollars to the supplemental states by renewing them at expiration. This action would simplify the block grant's rules and structure, and the supplemental states would be held harmless.

Congress recognized the inadequacy of the TANF block grant when it included the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds have been of incalculable value to families in need and to states searching for better ways to address poverty and hardship in this recession. Many of the families affected by unemployment will continue to struggle long after the ARRA funds are exhausted. It is unrealistic to expect the original level of TANF funding to be adequate for this country's new poor and for those who at one time succeeded in escaping poverty but are again unable to keep their families together and safe. Funding TANF adequately will provide an opportunity for states to continue the work of helping families get back on their feet in this new reality.

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Helen Thatcher is assistant director in the Operations Support Division at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
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Title Annotation:Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Author:Thatcher, Helen
Publication:Policy & Practice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2010
Words:1226
Previous Article:Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: an overview.
Next Article:NASTA's TANF reauthorization recommendations.
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