States have an important new opportunity to improve the employment outcomes of low-income families. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an Information Memorandum indicating the Administration’s interest in granting waivers to states for the administration of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. States may now seek waivers from the administration that allow them to experiment with new strategies to help low-income parents on TANF connect with employment.
States are required to demonstrate that 50 percent of the TANF caseload complies with work activity requirements. Advocates have long been concerned that the federal rules regarding “what counts” as a work activity is often a poor match for what many parents need to successfully prepare for, or enter, the workforce. Families in which a parent or a child has a disability are often poorly served under the current rules. Some are unable to meet the required number of hours in a work activity. Others require work preparation activities that are not countable, and so are simply not offered.
The mismatch between what families need to transition to work and what TANF agencies can provide has important consequences. Some households face impending time limits for cash assistance without ever receiving the individually tailored supports that could help them succeed in the workforce. High numbers of families, including those that include a member with a disability, lose cash assistance because they are unable to comply with work participation requirements. This contributes to the growth in the number of families living in extreme poverty without income from employment or social benefits. It also places families at greater risk of becoming homeless.
Waivers that allow States to expand the services they offer can help those with the most significant barriers to employment succeed and help them avoid falling deeper into poverty. When TANF agencies are able to successfully transition families into the workforce, they also reduce their vulnerability to homelessness. Ensuring States have the flexibility to deploy the tools that work to help families quickly connect to work can also help reduce their need for homeless services, allowing those scarce dollars to go further and help other vulnerable families in need.
Homeless service providers and advocates should explore how their State plans to take advantage of the new opportunity made available to improve employment services to low income families. For more information, contact Sharon McDonald at email@example.com.