In 1996, a new welfare program based on state block grants, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. TANF eliminated the AFDC entitlement to assistance, mandated work as a condition of receiving benefits, imposed time limits and sanctions, focused on family formation issues, and placed most of the control over administering welfare into the hands of the states. TANF was set to expire on October 1, 2002, but Congress was unable to complete work reauthorizing the law by then. Following a series of temporary extensions, the program was reauthorized through September, 2010 as part of the 2006 budget reconciliation bill.
The New TANF Provisions
Work provisions: States must have specific percentages of TANF recipients engaged in certain, specified work activities, or they lose part of their federal TANF grant as a penalty. In order for a state to get credit for work activities performed by a given TANF participant, the participants must work a minimum number of hours per week.
The changes in the TANF work rules will mean that many states will face immediate and significant increases in the percentage of TANF families that have to meet the hourly work requirements each month, or else face a reduction in the state federal TANF grant. The federal work rules will now also apply to state-funded welfare programs. To meet the new requirements, many states may have to create work programs for TANF recipients, but no new resources were provided for this purpose. Other states may feel pressure to reduce caseloads to meet the new requirements, by making it harder for families to get on or stay on TANF. The allowable work activities are unchanged neither restricted, nor expanded to allow more education and training or substance abuse treatment. On the positive side, proposals were abandoned to increase the number of hours recipients must work each week for the state to get credit for them.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also been given new authority to set regulations on whether activities qualify as allowable work activities, tracking and reporting on hours worked, and whether to include child-only cases when calculating state work participation rates.
Supports for Working Families: For families leaving welfare, the availability of work supports, such as child care, health care, and food stamps, can be a key to making a lasting transition to self-sufficiency. The transitional Medicaid program for families leaving TANF was extended for one year. Child care funding was increased by only $200 million per year, not nearly enough to make sure both TANF recipients and low-income working families have access to needed child care.
Fairness for Legal Immigrants: The Catholic community has long advocated for the availability of basic necessities to all those in need, regardless of their race, creed, ethnic origin, or nationality, and we have worked to restore necessary benefit eligibility for legal immigrants. Restoring full benefits eligibility for legal immigrants was a major priority for the USCCB. Unfortunately, the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants receiving TANF was not changed.
Marriage and Family Issues: The Catholic community has consistently affirmed the vital importance of marriage for raising children. Children do better economically, emotionally, and spiritually when raised by parents in the context of a stable, healthy marriage. Unfortunately, the changes in the TANF work rules are likely to make it harder for two-parent families to receive TANF, and the family cap which allows states to deny TANF benefits to children born while their family is receiving assistance, violating both pro-life and social justice principles remains in the law. However, the budget reconciliation bill did include funding for programs to support healthy marriages and strong families, for research and technical assistance focusing on family formation and healthy marriage activities, and for effective fatherhood programs.
USCCB and CCUSA support welfare policies that: Protect human life and dignity; strengthen family life; encourage and reward work; preserve a safety net for the vulnerable; build public/private partnerships to overcome poverty; and invest in human dignity.
- States must now decide what changes to make in their state TANF rules and programs to comply with the new federal rules. Work with local activists and state officials to make sure new policies help, dont hurt, families on TANF.
- When HHS releases proposed TANF regulations, review and comment on them.
- Continue to work on efforts to make TANF benefits available to all legal immigrants.
- Continue to work at the state and federal level to end the family cap.
Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform (1995); Putting Children and Families First (1992); TANF Reauthorization comments submitted to HHS by SDWP and by CCUSA, November 2001
Web sites: www.usccb.org www.catholiccharitiesusa.org