What’s New with the District’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program?
After a year of engagement and funding debates, DC has a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) policy we can be proud of. One that is serving the whole family by keeping more money in the home and eliminates arbitrary time limits regardless of how long the family has been in the TANF program. The new and improved TANF program also provides better employment supports to help families get a job, complete an educational program, receive a promotion, and ultimately exit public benefits.
How we got here
Three years ago, the District’s TANF policy anticipated a 60-month time limit and focused on immediate job placement at the expense of helping customers meet their long-term goals.
However, over the past 18 months, an extensive engagement process with District leadership and community partners has enabled the city to craft a TANF policy aimed to more sustainably serve the whole family.
This engagement process articulated the following fundamental values:
1. That the enrichment, security and well-being of children is paramount and cash income to a household is a protective factor for children; and
2. Meaningful engagement in education and employment activities enable parents to replace income from TANF with income from work.
What does this mean for participating TANF families?
All families will receive a blended grant that includes a portion for Child Enrichment (valued at 80 percent of the total and provided regardless of parental engagement) and for Parent Enrichment (valued at 20 percent of the total and subject to work participation).
The TANF program is changing in the following three ways:
1. As of October 1, 2017, we eliminated the 60-month time limit for families who receive TANF;
2. Starting April 1, 2018, we are increasing the benefit level of families who have received TANF for longer than 60 months; and
3. Starting April 1, 2018, we are mandating a streamlined single-level sanction for non-compliance.
Sabrina* is a forty-year-old mother of two who has been receiving TANF off and on for the past twelve years, or 139 months. She enrolled in the program at age 20, and discontinued her benefits two years later after obtaining her first job in the childcare industry.
Two separate subsequent events that led Sabrina back to TANF over the course of her adulthood were divorce and sudden job loss due to corporate bankruptcy. In other words — she used the benefit for temporary assistance whenever her family experienced a crisis.
Even though she and her family had received TANF benefits for longer than sixty months over time, and not continuously, her benefits were reduced from $575.00 per month to $174.00 according to the mandated federal guidelines for those receiving benefits longer than five years.
The District is now enhancing the services offered to families receiving TANF by offering more bonuses for providers and incentives for customers completing education, training and employment goals, and exiting TANF, providing more individualized case-coaching; and working with families to eliminate personal barriers to employment.
As we invest in these services, we are paying for results: occupational training and job seeking providers only get fully paid when customers achieve the following outcomes:
o Completion of education and training programs
o 12-months of employment retention
o Job promotion
o Customer earns off of TANF
On March 9, 2018, Sabrina will celebrate her one-year anniversary working as an Assistant Teacher at a local daycare center. Last fall she completed the training to become a lead teacher and is in the process of preparing for her certification examination.
Once again, she has transitioned off TANF and is taking the necessary steps to increase her income through employment that pays a viable living wage; however, Sabrina says that it’s comforting to know that if her family ever needs TANF again, they won’t be deemed ineligible simply because of arbitrary time limits.
*Customer’s name changed to protect identity.
Anthea Seymour, Administrator, Economic Security Administration, DHS