Last year, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a bill that would reshape the way TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) money is allocated and the enforcement around the funds, a process which saw significant changes during the Obama Administration. The bill has been filed again this year, sponsored by House Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady and 18 House co-sponors, as well as Senator Steve Daines, titled ‘The Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act of 2019’. The bill can be one of the most significant reconfigurations of the original welfare reform act since 1996 and correct some of the changes made during the Obama Administration.
Currently, states receive a block grant to spend as they see fit. The oversight given is minimal: states are primarily responsible for the work participation rates of beneficiaries. This has lead to states reducing spending on the ‘core’ programs of TANF and instead using the funds for other programs, such as:
tax credits, or
Pre-K and HEAD Start.
While these programs have merit in raising families from poverty, they are beyond the scope of TANF and divert money from the areas where it is more necessary and aligned with the programs intentions.
The new proposal adds structure and accountability to the funds that are granted to states. Since TANF was first enacted, the total funding amount has substantially stayed the same, with spending being extended at the previous levels. The 2019 JOBS for Success Act adds $3.5 billion annually to the child care entitlement funding, enabling more parents to return to work, one of the core goals of TANF.
The new bill also strengthens work requirements. All work-eligible beneficiaries must participate in sanctioned work or work-related activities, which include
Alongside the increased work expectation, though, comes more flexibility for states to determine what work activities should fulfill requirements, as the current system does not allow for much tailoring to individuals or states’ needs.
The 2019 plan implements more rigorous accountability systems. States will have to measure their effectiveness in increasing employment, retention, and advancement among beneficiaries. The Act initiates four measures to help ensure results. Currently, data is scattered on individually run websites. JOBS for Success 2019 calls for the creation of a website that would compare and grade states, publishing report cards based on their performance.
In addition to more central, public information, the 2019 Act puts specific percentage floors on the core tenets of the program: states must spend at least 25% of federal money and 25% of state money on activities that support work. The Department of Health and Human Services would be required to approve states’ plans, providing another layer of oversight to keep funding directed as desired.
Overall, the JOBS for Success Act 2019 addresses some of the issues with TANF spending, re-emphasizing the necessity of work and the long-term goal of moving people out of a place of need into independence and self-sufficiency. Currently, Kentucky dedicates more than 60% to basic assistance, the second highest of any state in the country.
This legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly considered a welfare reform bill, HB 3, which would have worked towards some of the same desired outcomes. The proposal of the bill was part of an ongoing conversation in the state regarding how welfare is distributed, a topic that requires more attention from lawmakers. Federal changes could be a major positive step that refocuses TANF on its primary goals and ensures it is achieving positive ends.