Voices’ Blog

When Families Work, Everything Works Better: Dispelling Myths about Welfare/TANF

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the federal program that provides cash assistance and employment supports for low-income working families with children. When the TANF block grant was passed in 1996 it significantly shifted the focus towards work and employment. Virginia lead the way with this initiative under the Allen Administration and created the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare (VIEW). There is a proposal in the House of Delegates (HB 2213- O’Bannon) that would limit the amount of time a family could participate in TANF from 60 months over a lifetime to 24 months. 

We have found that many individuals do not understand the current scope of TANF and the current work requirements. We wanted to lay the groundwork for how TANF helps families to achieve economic security.

  1. TANF/VIEW Participants Work Hard to Get Ahead– TANF/VIEW participants must participate in a work activity for 35 hours per week. Since the inception of VIEW in 1996, 96% of participants have met these work requirements. Work activities include employment, on-the-job training, community college coursework, volunteer work in public agencies, and job readiness training. As of June 2016 the average wage of a VIEW participant working in unsubsidized employment was $8.86 per hour.
  1. TANF/VIEW Participation Has Declined Dramatically– The eligibility threshold for TANF is one the lowest of any public benefit, around 20% of the poverty level (less than $336 per month for a family of 3). The caseload for TANF has declined by about 10,000 cases over the last 5 years since the recession to around 22,500 cases per month. This has contributed to a significant decline in expenditures for cash assistance from over $100 M in FY12 to $73 M in FY16.
  2. Virginia has a TANF Surplus, Over $90 million–  The reduction in participation and cash assistance has contributed to a TANF surplus approaching over $90 M in FY17. Funds that are no longer used for cash assistance have been allocated to other purposes to help families work such as child care assistance, home visiting parent counselors and domestic violence grants.
  1. TANF Participation is Limited to 60 Months in a Lifetime– A family may only receive TANF benefits for 60 months in a lifetime. In Virginia we require families to spend no more than 24 consecutive months receiving benefits.
  1. With 128,801 Children in Virginia Living in Deep Poverty in Virginia, TANF’s Reach Falls Short– Children who live in Deep Poverty, (less than 50% of the federal poverty level) are three times more likely to live in Deep Poverty as adults. Statewide the rate of children in Deep Poverty is 7% but in 31 localities the rate is double, more than 14% of children living in families with an annual income below $12,000 for a family of four. We should not place additional barriers as families face many hurdles moving from Deep Poverty, less than $12,000 a year for a family of four, to Self-Sufficiency, approximately $62,000 per year for a family of four.

To help families work they must have:

  • Enough economic stability to meet their basic needs- food, shelter, clothing and child care
  • Access to affordable child care
  • Job readiness and employable skills to obtain long-term, full-time employment
  • Access to health and mental health resources

Family economic stability is not a straight or short path.

Please oppose HB 2213 reducing the TANF eligibility time limit to 24 months by calling your Delegate or leaving a message.

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