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
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
- 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 individuals 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
- 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,
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
Judith Goode, Temple University - JudithGoode@cs.com