Align Time Limit Policy with Re-design Implementation to Ensure TANF Success

As District Dime regular readers know, DC recently launched a substantial re-design of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the welfare-to-work program for families with children, to help more families with children prepare for work and find jobs with good wages and benefits.

But the success of the redesign is at-risk.  There is a mismatch between DC’s recently adopted time limit policy ‘ which will reduce benefits to as low as $260 a month for thousands of families this year ‘ and the implementation of the new TANF employment program, because many families will have their benefits cut before they can even access the new TANF services. 

On Tuesday, Councilmembers Michael Brown and Jim Graham co-introduced legislation “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Time Limit Amendment Act of 2012″ to better align time limits with the new employment program.  And today, DCFPI released DC’s New Approach to the TANF Employment Program:  The Promises and Challenges, a report that reports on the potential for the employment program to help more families and also and outlines the issues that may interfere with the goal of helping parents achieve self sufficiency. 

The DCFPI report highlights the promising elements of the TANF re-design.  Rather than the “one-size fits all” nature of DC’s TANF services up to this point, the new TANF program uses a one-on-one assessment to identify each parent’s barriers to employment and then provide a set of services tailored to these needs.  In spring 2011, the Department of Human Services conducted a pilot with 164 TANF families, resulting in a ten-fold increase in the share of TANF recipients participating in work activities.  This was achieved in just 5 weeks, indicating that parents are willing to participate in activities if they are matched to their actual needs.  

But the success of the redesign is put at-risk by the looming cuts to basic assistance for families with children.  The new employment program is complex and will take time to implement.  Only a fraction of the 18,000 TANF families have been assessed and referred to an employment service provider.  It is likely that many will not be referred before the benefit cuts go into effect in October.    

Additionally, DC lacks the reasonable exemptions to time limits most states offer to protect the most vulnerable and allow them the time to deal with serious issues that interfere with their ability to work such as domestic violence, illness, or caring for a family member with a disability.  DC currently exempts these individuals from work activity requirements during affected months with the understanding that they are accessing services to deal with these issues.  But DC does not disregard these months from the time limit, meaning that parents who are dealing with the biggest issues may have little time to prepare for and train for work once they have addressed these issues.  

The “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Time Limit Amendment Act of 2012″ would provide reasonable time limit exemptions for vulnerable parents and would allow all parents time to take advantage of new employment services.  This bill is a positive step towards ensuring that the new TANF program is a success by incentivizing work while protecting our most vulnerable families. 

To view the full report, click here.