Report on Alternative Outcome Measures: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant . Who Must Participate?

12/01/2000

A key issue in the calculation of participation rates is defining who is required to participate  that is, who is counted in the denominator of the participation rate. As discussed below, the TANF program requires participation from a broader segment of adults receiving assistance than required under JOBS.

It is important to note that TANF funding covers both cash assistance and welfare-to-work programs and services and can be used for a wider range of cash and non-cash assistance than the cash assistance program (Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)) and job training program (JOBS) that it replaced. However, with regard to the participation requirements, the TANF regulations specify that only families receiving TANF "assistance" are included in the denominator of the participation rate. "Assistance" includes cash payments, vouchers, and other benefits designed to meet a familys ongoing needs, as well as supportive services provided to families who are not employed.(4) Thus, the participation requirements in TANF generally apply to a similar population, i.e., those receiving cash assistance rather than other types of services, as they did under JOBS.

The JOBS program mandated participation in program activities for adults in both two-parent and single-parent families receiving cash assistance  but only for a portion of these populations. Under JOBS, certain groups of individuals who received cash assistance  particularly those who were in circumstances that made participation more difficult  were "exempted" from the participation requirement. As summarized in Table 5, exemptions were made for those individuals who were: ill, incapacitated, or of advanced age (over age 60); needed in the home because of illness or incapacity of another family member; the caretaker of a child under age three (or, at state option, under age one); employed more than 30 hours per week; a dependent child under age 16 or attending an education program full-time; women in the second and third trimester of pregnancy; and residing in an area where the (JOBS) program was not available. For two-parent families, the exemption due to the age of the child applied to only one parent.

The TANF program has a broader approach to defining the participation mandate than the JOBS program. Unlike JOBS, the approach under TANF is to exempt as few individuals as possible from welfare-to-work activities. Thus, while TANF does allow certain individuals who receive assistance to be exempted from the work requirements, fewer exemptions are allowed than under JOBS. As shown on Table 5, the following exemptions are allowed in TANF:

  • States can exempt single parents with a child under age one from participation; these parents may be disregarded from the calculation of participation rates for up to 12 months.
  • A family that includes a disabled parent does not count in calculating the two-parent rate.
  • A state can waive participation requirements for individuals with a history of domestic violence. If a state fails to meet the required participation rates, the calculations will be adjusted to exclude these cases before a penalty is applied.(5)  So far, none of the states have required an adjustment to their overall or two-parent participation rate based on this provision.
Table 5
Exemptions from Welfare-to-Work Activities Under the JOBS and TANF Programs
Exemptions in the JOBS Program Exemptions in the TANF Program
  • Illness
  • Incapacitated
  • Over age 60
  • Needed in the home because of illness or incapacity of another family member
  • Caretaker of a child under age three (or, at state option, under age one)
  • Employed more than 30 hours per week
  • Dependent child under age 16 or attending an education program full-time
  • Women in the second and third trimester of pregnancy
  • Residing in an area where the program was not available
  • At state option, single parents with a child under age one
  • Disabled parents in two-parent families
  • Individuals with a history of domestic violence. (If a state fails to meet the required participation rates, the calculations will be adjusted to exclude these cases before a penalty is applied.)

TANF also allows exemptions from the participation requirements for states who had work program waivers in effect when PRWORA was enacted. States that had waivers for any of a number of work program provisions are allowed to continue their pre-TANF policies (if they are inconsistent with TANF) until the waiver expires. States that received waivers in one or more areas of their work program  specifically, allowable work activities, hours, exemptions, and/or sanctions for noncompliance  that are inconsistent with TANF are allowed to continue operating under their prior rules in all of these areas. Thus, states with pre-existing work program waivers can continue with the JOBS exemptions or other exemptions policies they established through a waiver. States in these circumstances can exempt a broader range of families from welfare-to-work activities than would otherwise be allowed under TANF. In addition, one state (Vermont) claims that waiver inconsistencies exempt all cases from the participation rates.

Another issue regarding the denominator of the participation rate under TANF concerns the treatment of families who have been sanctioned. Under TANF, families who have had their TANF grants reduced due to a sanction are subtracted from the total number of families included in the denominator  unless they have been sanctioned for more than three of the past 12 months.

Overall, as a result of these different approaches regarding who is required to participate and who is counted in the denominator of the participation rate, the TANF program extends its participation mandate to a much broader population. Under the JOBS program, the adults in approximately 43 percent of families receiving cash assistance were not exempt and therefore were subject to the participation mandate in FY 1995 (Committee on Ways and Means, 1997). In contrast, this proportion doubles under TANF  approximately 86 percent of the adults receiving assistance were subject to the participation requirements in TANF in FY 1998.(6)