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Temporary Assistance to Needy Families TANF"Literature Review" Chapter

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How can public administrators provide the necessary tools to help individuals effectively transition off the Work First program, known as TANF?

One of the most controversial developments in the history of public assistance has been the shift to demanding that individuals receiving support make a demonstrated commitment to find work. Although in theory this seems like a positive idea, in actual practice it has proved to be exceedingly problematic. The Work First program as it is known in some states -- but best known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) -- was theoretically designed to "end welfare as we know it" as promised by Bill Clinton, who campaigned as a conservative Democrat committed to ending inefficient welfare policies. In a 2006 editorial to the New York Times, Clinton proudly proclaimed his program a success, citing the following statistics: "In the past decade, welfare rolls have dropped substantially, from 12.2 million in 1996 to 4.5 million today. At the same time, caseloads declined by 54%. Sixty percent of mothers who left welfare found work, far surpassing predictions of experts. Through the Welfare to Work Partnership, which my administration started to speed the transition to employment, more than 20,000 businesses hired 1.1 million former welfare recipients." It is noteworthy that Clinton does not state whether the jobs which employ the recipients pay a living wage even though caseloads have declined.

According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "under TANF, the federal government provides a block grant to the states, which use these funds to operate their own programs. In order to receive federal funds, states must also spend some of their own dollars on programs for needy families (they face severe fiscal penalties if they fail to do so)." However, there are certain contingent requirements placed on states in terms of how they allocate funds. States must require recipients to engage in work activities and limits the time duration which individuals can remain on TANF. While the Center notes that many recipients have left to find work, many have also been terminated from the program for failing to meet work requirements and cannot be legitimately embraced as success stories simply because they are no longer the recipients of aid. The 2015 Center report on the program concluded: "Research has shown that these families often have barriers to employment that can impede their ability to meet the state's expectations, such as: mental and physical impairments; substance abuse; domestic violence; low literacy or skill levels; learning disabilities; having a child with a disability; and problems with housing, child care, or transportation."

This has been a frequent criticism of the program over the years, even from those within the Administration that designed the program. In 1997 in an editorial to the Atlantic, an assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services who resigned in protest over the implementation of Clinton's welfare reform wrote: "the bill that President Clinton signed is not welfare reform. It does not promote work effectively, and it will hurt millions of poor children by the time it is fully implemented. What's more, it bars hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants -- including many who have worked in the United States for decades and paid a considerable amount in Social Security and income taxes -- from receiving disability and old-age assistance and food stamps, and reduces food-stamp assistance for millions of children in working families" (Edelman 1997).

As noted by Hildebrandt & Stevens in their 2009 article "Impoverished women with children and no welfare benefits: The urgency of researching failures of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program" the program has not been successful in transitioning women on a permanent basis off of public assistance but rather created a kind of revolving door policy where women may leave but often swiftly return: "Families on TANF are a highly vulnerable population, many of them prevented by health barriers from meeting program expectations of self-support within 5 years." The program on paper was initially successful in forcing the women (who make up the majority of beneficiaries of TANF benefits) off of welfare rolls after a period of job training, bolstered by the expanding economy of the mid-1990s. However, "social policy analysts differ on whether the primary goal of welfare policy should be reducing poverty or reducing dependency by putting people to work" (Hildebrand & Stevens 2009). Ultimately, the type of jobs the women were prepared to perform were still low-wage, minimally-skilled jobs that did not ultimately address the reasons why they had fallen into poverty in the first place. "A major fiscal goal of TANF policy is to reduce recipients' dependence on government assistance by requiring self-sufficiency through work; however, the low-wage jobs for which most TANF recipients are prepared do not pull their families out of poverty" (Hildebrand & Stevens 2009). Even so-called successful graduates of the program, the evidence indicates, merely transitioned to different types of state aid programs to sustain themselves and their families.

TANF recipients also have other characteristics which the program did not address, such as a lack of adequate access to healthcare and childcare. "For a single mother in a low-paying job, a conflict can occur between her imperative to keep a job so she can pay for food and shelter and her responsibility to see to the health, safety, and education of her children ... just 40% of them had jobs that paid at least $7.50 per hour and had health insurance benefits," making it impossible to care for themselves when ill and to pay for affordable childcare (Hildebrand & Stevens 2009). "Several other studies have shown that about 20% of leavers were disconnected and more disadvantaged than other leavers. Barriers to staying connected included limited education, poor health, lack of transportation, learning disabilities, substance misuse, domestic violence, and risk of economic hardship ... between 10% and 34% of TANF leavers were uninsured, and that fewer than half of those who had jobs had access to job-related health benefits or health benefits with affordable employee copayments" (Hildebrand & Stevens 2009).

Under-treatment for both physical and psychological problems seems rife amongst TANF recipients. "In the general population, depression and physical health problems have been linked to each other and to unemployment, job loss, and low job performance. Results of study after study suggest that the low-income population served by TANF is less educated and poorer than the low-income population not enrolled in TANF and has a high prevalence of mental and physical health problems that persist over time and limit the ability to work" (Hildebrand & Stevens 2009). Mental health problems that are left untreated can make finding stable work difficult, regardless of whatever sanctions are imposed upon the recipient by the program. Recipients of TANF are also more likely to have children with serious, chronic health problems: "25% of children in TANF families, compared with 21.5% of children in low-income, non-TANF families, had at least 1 chronic health problem or disability," which can further complicate childcare arrangements and also place additional debilitating psychological stress upon the families (Hildebrand & Stevens 2009).

Particularly in states which did not expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA)'s Medicaid provisions to include workers earning slightly higher incomes but still earning low wages, obtaining healthcare is a struggle. As indicated by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) in a report, even low-wage workers with professional certification in the healthcare industry struggle to find affordable care: "more than 400,000 direct-care workers don't have coverage, some of whom because they live in states that haven't expanded Medicaid" (Collins 2014). The high-deductible, less expensive plans offered by the ACA can also be insufficient for workers with serious health concerns. Furthermore, paying for transportation can also be a serious issue for women in the program. In short, poor workers face a number of financial obstacles which can make even remaining in entry-level low-wage employment more challenging for them and the wages they earn are not enough to compensate for the additional difficulties of navigating parenthood, health concerns, and simply getting to work.

As noted by Shelia Dewan in her 2014 article "A job-seeker's desperate choice," a woman without childcare offered a job interview for a position which could elevate her out of poverty was faced with the choice of leaving her child in the car while she interviewed or not going to the job interview at all: when she chose the interview, she was arrested for child abuse. "Ten dollars an hour is basically going to keep me broke, keep me dependent on food stamps and Medicare and things like that," said the woman, "I don't want to live like that forever. I want to get out and do something bigger and better and be self-sustaining" (Dewan 2014). The terrible choice highlights one which women often feel they must make every day: between supporting their children or work.

The evidence indicates that while TANF participation may be on the decline, participation in other programs… [END OF PREVIEW]

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