The welfare of the constituents must be the primordial concern of the government. It is the most important factor being considered towards the development of a nation. For this matter, government leaders exert rigorous efforts in partnership with various stakeholders such as the civic and religious institutions, the non government organizations and the academe through the conduct of necessary programs, projects and services to address poverty and other welfare concerns.
The primary concern of the government, both the executive and legislative branches, is the enhancement of the socio-economic condition of the marginalized sector of the society, particularly the poor and in-need families. Statistics reveals that there are 37 million Americans today who are living along the poverty line (Poverty in America). Poor families should be given due attention and care to help them live sufficiently and decently and establish their families in the society. Given this rationale, the government enacted an innovative program aimed at uplifting the socio-economic condition of these poor families called the State Welfare Program implemented through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF.
Overview of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program
State Welfare Program was signed into law in 1996 during the term of President Bill Clinton (Sheila Zedlewski, et.al.). Under this program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF is conceptualized that particularly replaces the previously implemented state welfare program which was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC. Accordingly, the “AFDC Program originated in the 1935 Social Security Act which provided federal funds under Title IV of the Act to match state funds. The purpose of the program is to provide financial and medical assistance to needy dependent children and the parents or relatives with whom they are living” (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Formerly: Aid to Families with Dependent Children).
TANF or the reformed social welfare program is aimed to teach the poor families the value of work rather than dependency on the government. The new welfare program provides for a fixed block grant to states with certain requirements instead of the previously allocated cash assistance which matches state’s expenditures. As the word ‘temporary assistance’ denotes, the TANF extends temporary help to in-need families through various opportunities for employment to make them sustainable to raise their own families independently (Sheila Zedlewski, et.al.).
How the TANF System Works?
Under the TANF program, the family beneficiaries receive various forms of assistance from the federal government downloaded to the states government such as cash assistance, food stamps, medical care, housing, employment, child care and other help to make their living conditions sustainable and stable. In order to qualify as recipient of the TANF program, family applicants must have very few assets and have less or no income at all. Relative to this, families undergo series of screening, assessment and evaluation of social and income status in order to qualify to the program.
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Public Welfare manages the implementation of the TANF program or the Cash Assistance Program (Cash Assistance/TANF and Moving to Independence). Along the provision of these benefits are caseworkers who monitor and see that the guidelines of the program are religiously followed. The assistance that Pennsylvania State provides helps the families while they are on their way to attaining sustainability. The workers of the Department of Public Welfare help the family members find high paying jobs commensurate to their qualifications. They provide training and capability building activities to enhance the beneficiaries’ skills. Child care is provided to make sure that children are attended to while the parents are busy with their works. Medical care is likewise given to ensure that the health needs of the beneficiaries are taken care of. Monetary aid, the most important form of assistance, is given to dependent children, their parents, other relatives with whom they live, and the pregnant women for a period of 60 months or 5 years. The amount of financial assistance varies on the number of members each family has (Cash Assistance/TANF and Moving to Independence). As pointed out in the Summary of Key Issues on TANF program of Pennsylvania, there are some changes in the guidelines to be adopted particularly in the granting of monetary aid which states that:
Effective October 1, 2008, from the amount of current support collected, the state will pass through to the TANF cash assistance group the first $100 per month for one child or the first $200 per month for two or more children, or the first $50 per month for spousal support, without decreasing the amount of cash assistance. No more than one support pass through is paid per month per family and the maximum monthly amount allowed is $200 (Summary of Key Issues).
Along with this monetary support are the transitional cash assistance of $100 per month (two semi-monthly $50 issuances) for three consecutive months and the reimbursable work expense of $50 per month to be given each family while the members are on a transition period from dependence to welfare to self-sufficiency. These additional monetary supports do not count against the 5 year lifetime limit for cash aid under the TANF program (Summary of Key Issues).
Every state has its own version of state welfare program. In Minnesota, it has the Minnesota Family Investment Program or the MFIP which serves about 41,000 beneficiaries. These poor families are receiving welfare assistance in forms of cash grants, food stamps and health care subsidies. Through the aids being received regularly, they are able to pay for their housing and monthly bills and meet their daily subsistence. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is further provided to severely disabled persons of the community (Marissa Helms). In Oregon, the current maximum monthly benefit for a family of three is $528 (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Many have seen and felt the benefits derived from the state welfare program implementation in every state.
Every privilege and benefit has a corresponding responsibility. Under the TANF program, family-beneficiaries are required to involve in work-related activities should they want to receive government aid. It requires 50% of single parent families and 90% of two parent families to engage in federally approved work-related activities. This strategy becomes the subject of scrutiny and attack because of it being unfair and unattainable. However as legislators claim, this policy of the reformed program will produce a measurable fiscal impact on the government (Christine Vestal).
The policy of engagement in federal work-related activities – 50% for single parent and 90% for two-parent families – is said to reduce the number of recipients due to the penalty imposed on non-compliance to the policy. This policy implies that two-parent families will have tougher works to meet in order to avail the welfare assistance. This policy has been criticized suggesting that 50% workload across all families should only be imposed. It is observed that implementation of said policy has not attained a satisfactory level which led to a continuing decrease in the number of beneficiaries for every state. Lesser number of beneficiaries implies a big cut in the welfare program funding allocation for a state. Resultantly, intended families who are supposed recipients could no longer avail of the program because of the tougher workloads. With this, the main purpose of the existence of the program is defeated.
With this, the State of Pennsylvania has come up with a methodology to reduce the work participation of families in federal related activities. In its Notice of Request for Pennsylvanians’ comment, arguments are stated thus:
In accordance with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) Final Rule dated April 12, 1999 (45 CFR Part 260, et al) Pennsylvania has developed its methodology for calculating the Caseload Reduction Credit for Federal Fiscal Year 2005. The Department of Public Welfare is requesting public comment on the proposed methodology.
Congress created the Caseload Reduction Credit to ensure that states receive credit for families that have become self-sufficient and left the welfare rolls. The Caseload Reduction Credit reduces the required work participation rate that Pennsylvania must meet. The Caseload Reduction Credit reflects the reduction in Pennsylvania’s caseload in the prior year compared to its caseload under the title IV-A State plan in effect in 2005, excluding reductions due to Federal law or to State changes in eligibility criteria.
The methodology used to complete the caseload reduction report uses administrative data on applications rejected and cases closed to determine the impact of the eligibility changes on the caseload (Notice of Request for Public Comment).
Issues and Concerns on TANF Program Implementation
The change in the scheme of the social welfare program became a hot subject of debate among authorities and further contested by states and beneficiaries. As a reaction, Judge Tilsen of Minnesota issued a temporary restraining order to that effect to put on hold the cutting of benefits to thousands of low-income Minnesotans after lawyers of some disabled beneficiaries argued successfully in court their concern on the matter sometime in 2003 (Marissa Helms). Accordingly, the “new legislation restricts state use of federal TANF funds in ways designed to encourage work and discourage long term welfare dependency” (Sheila Zedlewski, et.al.); hence, alleviating in-need families from poverty is the primary objective of the State Welfare Program. Moving them out from welfare to work is rooted in the policies of the reformed program. As stipulated:
1) Families may not receive assistance for more than five years during their lifetime, with up to 20 percent of the caseload potentially exempt for reasons of hardship.
2) The percentage of TANF families who are working must increase overtime, and virtually all TANF families must work after receiving benefits for two years.
3) Each state must maintain 80 percent of its own recent AFDC spending level which can drop to 75 percent if the state meets the new federal work participation targets (Sheila Zedlewski, et.al.).
In terms of funding, the federal government provides each state a fixed yearly block grant for a period of six years where allocation is based on the previous AFDC expenditures. The more expenses a state has, the higher the budgetary allocation it gets. With this, the state will have a greater fiscal leeway to implement variety of activities under the State Welfare Program for its in-need constituents.
Critics, however claim that the new state welfare program resulted to a big reduction on the number of recipients from the old AFDC system by 60% (Paul Weyrich). Due to the new funding policy – amount released in every state is based on the previous AFDC – which is quite inequitable and disproportionate to the needs of every state, some states are paying for the extra expenditures while others are keeping the extra as savings. Accordingly, the key problem is that “the federal block grant for each state if finite and does not vary depending on how much the state spends” (Paul Weyrich).
Pavetti and Duke further uncover some operational issues in the implementation of the program during their conduct of research study in the states of Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Utah and Vermont. The study reveals that with the increased number of parents engaging in work-related activities, some states incur additional costs for the hiring of additional staff to handle these employment related works and to pay for the additional child care expenses. To limit program costs, some states cut off expenses for education and training but rather shift to a more direct job placement. Accordingly, the transition years were quite difficult for the implementers due to the complexity of the new program in some areas. Pavetti and Duke summarize the lessons learned in their study to include:
1) There is more than one way to reform the welfare system.
2) It is possible to substantially increase participation in work or work-related activities in a relatively short period of time, especially within the context of a healthy economy, but, at least in the short-term, it costs money to do so.
3) Child care plays an important role in transforming the welfare system into a more work-oriented system.
4) If large numbers of recipients are placed in subsidized employment and caseloads decline substantially, those recipients left behind are likely to be recipients with multiple barriers to employment
5) Even though sanctions have received very little attention in the national welfare reform debate, several of these states’ experiences suggest they are an important part of an overall strategy for increasing participation in work and work-related activities.
6) Changing the culture of the welfare office is complex and involves bringing about change on many different levels.
7) The up-front planning process plays an important role in bringing about change in an orderly fashion (Pavetti & Duke).
Based from the arguments presented above, thorough review, analysis and evaluation must be therefore conducted to address the many issues and problems that arise along the TANF program implementation. Adoption of necessary recommendations that would address the problems and ultimately meet the general objectives of the program to further enhance its implementation should be considered by concerned authorities and program implementers.
It is the duty of the government to provide basic services and assistance to its constituents as stipulated in the constitution. The state welfare program is a noble innovation in response to this concern. Government leaders and authorities must therefore look at the results, effects and impacts of this welfare program to the people. After all, a program is not effective unless its objectives are not very satisfactorily met.
Cash Assistance/TANF and Moving to Independence.
Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at:
Helms, Marissa. Judge blocks state from cutting welfare programs. Released 01 July
2003. Minnesota Public Radio. Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at: http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2003/07/01_helmsm_welfareruling/
Notice of Request for Public Comment on Pennsylvania’s Methodology
for Calculating the 2007 TANF Caseload Reduction Credit Report.
Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at:
Pavetti, LaDonna A. & Duke, Amy-Ellen. State Welfare Reform Efforts. The Urban
Institute. Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at: http://www.urban.org/pubs/statwel/stat_wel.htm
Poverty in America. Retrieved 30 Nov 2008, from United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops Website: http://www.usccb.org/cchd/povertyusa/
Summary of Key Issues. Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Oregon.gov Webpage.
Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Formerly: Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (AFDC). Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at:
Vestal, Christine. News Release, Feds finch state welfare programs. Released 03 Feb
2006. Stateline.org Website. Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at: http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=85776
Weyrich, Paul. Big Government Coming to City Near You. Randall’s Site.
Accessed 30 Nov 2008 at: http://randallhayes.multiply.com/journal/item/22/Big_Government_Coming_to_City_Near_You
Zedlewski, Sheila R. & Giannarelli, Linda (1997). Diversity Among State Welfare
Programs. Posted to Web on 01 Jan 1997. Urban Institute Webpage. Accessed 30
Nov 2008 at: http://www.urban.org/publications/307033.html