Committee on Public Policy

TANF Reauthorization Policy Suggestions - Executive Summary

The Committee on Public Policy of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) endorses the position paper on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families written by Jo Anne Schneider, which addresses vital issues within a key area of public policy concern to AAA members and to the communities with which we work. The paper highlights important research findings by professional anthropologists relevant to this subject, and provides policy makers and the public with concise information about the likely social impact of proposed legislation.

TANF Reauthorization Policy Suggestions
Committee on Public Policy, American Anthropological Association

By Jo Anne Schneider

Executive Summary

The U.S. Federal Welfare Reform Act of 1996, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), is currently up for renewal. In its first five years, TANF was declared a success for dramatically reducing welfare caseloads across the country.  However, some analysts suggest that the booming economy contributed significantly to caseload decline.  State and local government officials, as well as advocates for the poor, express concerns that TANF funding levels and time limits will cause hardship for both local governments and poor families.

Anthropological research focuses on the effects of welfare reform at the grass roots level, observing policy implementation in institutions, and the ways people respond to these policies.  Policy recommendations reflect findings from in-depth, process oriented research. 

  • TANF goals should focus on poverty reduction through a combination of strategies to move families into stable jobs paying family supporting wages with benefits, and providing income, benefits and related work supports for working families.
  • Ethnographic research supports indexing TANF grants to inflation. Proposals related to contingency funds, supplemental funds, rainy day and carry-over provisions also deserve support.
  • Do not include TANF funded work supports as part of the five-year time limit, but include working poor families in receiving such assistance in the state caseload.
  • Allow for a raise of the 20 percent exemption cap on a state by state basis, depending on the percentage of the caseload with significant barriers to employment and economic conditions.
  • Stop the clock for working poor families receiving supplemental cash assistance. Give families credit toward continued assistance, given an established work history.
  • Standardize time limits across the states by eliminating state time limits of less than five years.
  • Ethnographic research supports calls for flexibility to design plans that meet the needs of individual families.
  • Work related activities should include treatment for substance abuse, domestic violence counseling and rehabilitation without time limits. 
  • Two-parent families and single-parent families should have the same requirements. 
  • Required work related activity hours per week should not be increased.  Limit participation based on availability of childcare.
  • Count travel to work time as a work related activity when regular commutes extend beyond forty-five minutes one way.
  • Allow former welfare recipients or low wage earners to include child, disabled relative or elder care as a work-related activity.  Encourage states to provide training and support to people providing home day care as a source of income.
  • Provide exemptions and flexibility for families with disabled children.
  • Career oriented education should be allowed as a work related activity, without time limits, based on the individual’s employment development plan. The number of hours allocated to training, study time and work experience should remain flexible.
  • Education and training is most effective when combined with related work-like experience, which could include related employment, publicly funded jobs, on-the-job-training, internships or supervised community service in the field of study. Students in ABE/GED and ESL courses should be in similar work experience activities that allow them to practice newly acquired skills.
  • Policies to improve service provision, appropriate assessment and screening based on individual circumstances, monitoring of program participation, outreach to eligible families for support services, coordination and simplification of program rules for related federal programs and improved data collection warrant support based on local level experience.  However, state plans should include provisions for adequate staff, appropriate monitoring and supervision for front-line workers, liaison activities with contractors and other community based organizations, the upgrade of staff skills, coordination with contractors and the reduction of case loads in order to achieve these goals.
  • Initiatives to improve funding for support services through programs such as SSBG, and additional flexibility and changes in eligibility requirements to allow more working families to qualify for support would ease the burden on working families.  
  • Childcare funding should be increased and expanded to include more working families.  While improving the quality of childcare is an important goal, research with poor families suggests that many parents prefer family or friend providers than formal care. Improvements in childcare need to include enhancing the abilities of these home providers.
  • Simplifications of program rules and asset disregards (not counting assets such as a car when determining family resources) the food stamp program are welcome changes to current policy. 
  • The medical insurance system needs to be fixed for all working families.  Interim proposals such as extending TMA, CHIP and related programs, and allowing states flexibility to experiment with other expanded benefits should be encouraged. Medical insurance programs should include adequate funding for administration. 
  • Count in-kind support from non-custodial parents as child support in cases where parents are unemployed, disabled or completing education programs. 
  • Evaluate the impact of devolution and for-profit service on community-based providers, and on participants in TANF programs. Ensure support of long term successful community based contractors through increased technical assistance, reduction of paperwork, continued funding, encouragement of co-contracting with larger agencies, as well as other similar strategies. 
  • Continue Charitable Choice with additional technical assistance and civil rights provisions.  Include long term evaluation of the unique role of churches and religious providers in social welfare service provision.

Additionally endorsed by the following anthropologists, policy institutes and policy scholars:

Alan Benjamin, Pennsylvania State University

Leslie Bloom, Iowa State University

Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University

Karen Curtis, Center for Community Development & Family Policy, University of Delaware

Pablo Eisenberg, Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University

Judith Goode, Temple University

David Hakken, SUNY Institute of Technology

Jane Henrici, University of Memphis

Virginia Hodgkinson, Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University

Catherine Kingfisher, University of Lethbridge

William S. Lachicotte, School of Medicine, University North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Louise Lamphere, University of New Mexico

Deborah Freedman Lustig, Santa Clara University

Sandra Morgen, University of Oregon

Helen Safa, University of Florida, Gainesville

Jo Anne Schneider, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Merrill Singer, Hispanic Health Center

Debra Skinner, FPG Child Development Institute

Alex Stepick, Florida International University

For further information on the statement and the AAA Committee on Public Policy, contact

Judith Goode, Temple University - JudithGoode@cs.com


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