To Update TANF Is to Invest in the Untapped Workforce


PUBLISHED NOV. 08, 2018

By Taylor Maag, JFF and Lisa Simmons, MAXIMUS

Individuals without jobs in this tight labor market are some of the hardest to serve. They face barriers and skill deficits that make it difficult for them to find and keep meaningful employment. Many in this population are eligible for public services, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal block grant to states that provides assistance to low-income families with children—formerly known as welfare. 

A reauthorization of TANF is essential to helping recipients reduce barriers and find jobs.

TANF was created in 1996, with no updates to the law in more than 20 years. JFF believes a reauthorization of TANF is essential to helping recipients reduce barriers, such as lack of transportation or child care, and find jobs while also addressing employers’ needs. The US House of Representatives passed a bill to remedy this in May, but the legislation stalled, lacking bipartisan support.

TANF

To ensure that TANF helps its clients acquire the skills they need for economic success and self-sufficiency, JFF believes the policy should be changed to provide states with

  • incentives to focus on quality job placements and providing the education and skills training necessary for underprepared individuals to attain good jobs;
  • new success measures, such as employment, retention, earnings, educational progress, and credential attainment, while removing the current work participation rate; and
  • additional funding for education, skills attainment, career navigation, and support services.

Others Pick Up the Slack 

Meanwhile, states and localities, which administer TANF funds, are finding innovative ways to drive success for their clients. One example comes from Washington, DC, where MAXIMUS, a nationwide company that helps health and human services agencies administer government programs, has been the city’s top-performing vendor of TANF services. 

For more than a decade, DC followed TANF’s work-first approach, focusing on applicants finding a job, regardless of the position or the individual’s needs. Conversations between TANF participants and case managers were guarded because customers feared they would be penalized or lose their benefits. When MAXIMUS took on this work, the company’s case managers could see that things needed to change to better serve this population. They implemented new practices that coordinated efforts, shared resources, and promoted a family-centered approach to services. 

MAXIMUS’ approach engages entire families, so the needs and critical services required by both parent and child are addressed through education, economic supports, and social capital. The company says that when opportunities for all family members residing in the same household are approached jointly, the benefits are greater than if they’d been addressed separately.

MAXIMUS

Health and human service programs company that helps health and human services agencies administer government programs.

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The Impact of Effective Assistance Programs

Since MAXIMUS stepped in, DC participants have gained more access to education and training, thus increasing their opportunities for valued employment. Through job preparation and placement services, MAXIMUS has served 14,000 residents. The company has secured jobs for 8,000 people—with 83 percent retaining employment for more than 180 days—and provided another 4,000 with education and training services.  

And the program’s success is not just in the numbers.

It’s imperative that policymakers come together and create a bipartisan reauthorization of TANF.

Markia Greene, a DC native, was a mother on TANF. When she began her orientation at the MAXIMUS office, she was homeless, scared, and unsure of what to do. Markia was placed with a case manager, who worked diligently to get Markia and her son immediate shelter. The next day, Markia returned and was able to receive instant child care for her son while she looked for work. With the help of these services, Markia was able to participate in MAXIMUS’ work experience program. Now, 10 years after completing the program and furthering her education, Markia is a MAXIMUS case management supervisor. Her story demonstrates how TANF and other anti-poverty policies can be essential tools in improving family mobility. 

The Time to Reauthorize Is Now

JFF has long supported programs and strategies that prepare disadvantaged individuals like Markia for family-supporting careers. We believe good jobs are key to economic mobility, but a job alone, without adequate supports, cannot help most individuals on public assistance dig their way out of poverty. To address these challenges, it’s imperative that policymakers come together and create a bipartisan reauthorization of TANF.

TANF

A reauthorization has the potential to eliminate arbitrary or contradictory restrictions on education and job training. The action would promote better alignment between TANF and workforce development programs to reduce duplicate services. Finally, it would offer increased opportunities for education and training. As we look to the future, it is critical that our country invests in the untapped workforce by helping underserved individuals attain the education, skills, and credentials needed to prosper. Action to update TANF would be a significant step in that direction.