Next Steps on Welfare Reform

September 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Donna Pavetti testified today before the House Ways and Means Committee, Subcommittee on Human Resources, on renewing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  Here’s the opening of her testimony:

TANF was created 15 years ago with a balanced approach in mind — that our nation’s cash assistance system would be redesigned to create an expectation of work for able-bodied recipients and that a safety net would be maintained for parents who were unable to work due to a short-term crisis, a work-limiting disability or because no jobs are available.  When we consider the reauthorization of TANF, we need to consider both aspects of TANF, taking into account what we have learned during TANF’s first 15 years.

In my testimony, I will focus on four key points related to these two aspects of TANF:

  1. TANF provides cash assistance for a very small share of poor families, and many who receive assistance face significant barriers to employment.
  2. State TANF programs are built on an expectation of work, but there is a mismatch between recipients’ employment assistance needs and the narrowly-defined work activities that the statute recognizes.
  3. The TANF work participation rate is an inadequate measure of TANF’s success or failure as a program that promotes and supports work and provides a safety net when work is not available.
  4. The safety net aspect of TANF is weak; TANF responded only modestly to increased need during the recent economic downturn, and then, only in some states.

First, however, I would like to highlight an immediate issue that merits policymakers’ attention even before reauthorization.  Congress should restore and renew full funding for 2012 for TANF Supplemental Grants, which were provided to 17 states every year since 1996, until now.  Despite its name, this funding was meant to address serious inequities across states in the basic TANF funding formula, rather than as a “supplement.”  Recipient states have among the highest rates of overall poverty and child poverty, and on average, their TANF expenditures per poor child have been less than half those of non-recipient states.

States are now scaling back programs that help unemployed TANF recipients find jobs, and TANF has responded only modestly to the recession, largely due to its fixed block-grant funding structure that provides states the same funds regardless of increases in need as a result of an economic downturn.  The unprecedented loss of TANF Supplemental Grant funds for the 17 states this past June 30, will, among other things, make it harder for them to maintain or increase work engagement among recipients.

Click here for the full testimony.

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. SK #

    Thank you Donna. Someone has to set these politicians straight.

    Let me say that I am a divorced, single mother who has succeeded in going from being a working Welfare mom (receiving SNAP and Medicaid for my children) to being a caseworker at the Dept of Public Welfare in my state. I have been in the shoes of those on both sides of the platform, and I try to have a fairly balanced view of the issues because I’ve been there.

    Perhaps it is just because I live in a state with more lenient work-participation rules, but I feel that we as caseworker’s make every effort to not only comply with the rules and goals set out for our department, but also to create a Case Management Plan that truly helps those who are looking for that “hand up”, not handout. But this is where some of the problems in the statistics lie – even though it has been 17 years since Welfare Reform was enacted, there are still too many recipients who don’t WANT to (not can’t) do the legwork to be “successful” TANF recipients. I can make as many phone calls and referrals and pleas as my time and caseload allows (which, granted, is always not enough time and too many clients), but I cannot make clients “break out” of their sociological mold and want to better their lives if they don’t want to. How many of these families in poverty aren’t being helped because: 1) They’ve already gone through their 60-month lifetime allotment or 2) They just don’t want to do the associated work so they don’t sign up? I wonder.

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