The devolution of policy making authority granted under PRWORA encourages state and local creativity and flexibility to identify and address unobserved barriers to work among the TANF population. This section discusses the opportunities and limitations presented by federal TANF policies that states face in developing screening and assessment approaches. In particular, we consider four key TANF features - 1) the uses of federal TANF funds and the definition of assistance, 2) time limits, 3) work requirements, and 4) the Family Violence Option.33
When developing screening and assessment policies and approaches state and local TANF agencies and their partners need to clearly understand the intricacies of each policy requirement, and the mix of constraints and opportunities they offer. The intent of this section is to highlight key features of TANF policy that may influence decisions about approaches to screening, assessment, and service provision. In an effort to illustrate some of the program and policy choices states have made, this section offers some examples. However, it is by no means a comprehensive review of the combinations of policies states have adopted, nor does it present the range of combinations states may want to consider.34
33 For a more complete understanding of TANF guidelines, see Public Law 104-193, and TANF regulations at 45 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 260-265. See also regulation summaries prepared by Greenberg and Savner 1999 and Schott, et al. 1999.
34 For additional information on the uses of TANF funds see, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance, Helping Families Achieve Self-Sufficiency: A Guide on Funding Services for Children and Families through the TANF Program, www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/ofa/funds2.htm. Washington, DC: DHHS, undated.
What Opportunities and Limitations are Presented by the Family Violence Option
The Family Violence Option (FVO) may provide states adopting this option protection from penalties that might otherwise be imposed for not meeting work participation requirements or for failing to comply with federal time limits. The FVO provides states with the flexibility to grant families temporary waivers from work and other program requirements without fear of penalties. Waivers may be granted to allow families to pursue domestic violence counseling, safety planning, and other related services.49
However, in order to qualify for this safeguard, states that grant exemptions to domestic violence victims must certify that they have and enforce procedures to screen and identify individuals who have a history of domestic violence and make referrals for counseling services while maintaining confidentiality.50 If a state meets these federal requirements and exceeds the 20 percent limit on the number of clients that can receive federal assistance beyond 60 months because the state is providing waivers to domestic violence victims, the state will not be penalized.51 Similarly, if a state fails to meet the required work participation rate because of good cause waivers to the work requirement granted to domestic violence victims, it will also not be penalized.
49 For the purposes of the FVO, a family must have "...an individual who is battered or subjected to extreme cruelty." See TANF Final Regulations, Section 260.51.
50 See TANF Final Regulations, Section 260.55 for additional details regarding federal recognition of domestic violence good cause waivers.
51 Schott, et al. 1999.
What Opportunities and Limitations are Presented by the Provision of Federal TANF 0
Key to understanding the flexibility offered and constraints imposed by TANF is the concept of TANF "assistance." This is important because two of the more widely talked-about aspects of TANF policy - time limits and work requirements - apply when federal TANF "assistance" is provided. Therefore, decisions about providing services are influenced by whether or not the service falls within the definition of "assistance."
The final TANF regulations provide a fairly narrow definition of "assistance," thus broadening the range of services states and localities can offer clients without subjecting them to time limits and work participation requirements. "Assistance" includes cash payments, vouchers, and other non-cash benefits designed to meet a family's on-going, basic needs. There are specific exclusions from this definition including supportive services to employed families, short-term benefits,35 wage subsidies to employers, and other services that do not provide basic income support.
The federal definition of "assistance" allows states attempting to identify barriers latitude in the services they can offer without subjecting clients to time limits and work participation requirements.
This definition offers states undertaking efforts to identify barriers to employment some latitude in providing a range of services. For example, counseling and case management services - services that do not provide basic income support but that are thought to be important for clients with unobserved barriers to employment - are examples of services excluded from the definition of "assistance." Therefore, states have the flexibility to provide these services without subjecting clients to federal time limits or work participation requirements. However, if for example, federal TANF funds are used to provide a cash benefit while a client is in counseling, time limits and work requirements do apply to that family.
35 States may use TANF funds to provide "short-term" benefits or support "short-term" services for an "episode of need" - defined as four months or fewer - without being considered assistance.
What Opportunities and Limitations Arepresented by Time Limits?
Both federal and state time limits can affect TANF recipients' opportunities to receive services necessary to successfully transition from welfare to work. Many perceive time limits as a motivating factor for TANF agencies to provide services and clients to undertake steps to change their lives. However, for clients with unobserved barriers to employment, leaving welfare and achieving self-sufficiency within 60 months as required by PRWORA may be a significant challenge.
In some states, clients face the challenge of leaving welfare in less than 60 months. PRWORA allows states to impose time limits shorter than 60 months - an option 23 states have exercised.36 State time limits vary, including being as short as 12 months in Texas (for recipients with 18 or moremonths of recent work experience and a high school diploma, GED, or certificate from a vocational school37 ) and 18 months in Tennessee.38 Both types of time limits increase the urgency around removing or mitigating barriers to work. For instance, a client with a substance abuse problem must have her problem identified, be referred to services, receive and successfully complete services, and ideally leave welfare for work before 60 months has elapsed, or in even less time in many states.
States with shorter time limits might consider making screening and assessment part of initial intake in an attempt to identify and address barriers to employment as soon as possible. For example, concerned about the 36-month state lifetime limit on cash assistance, Utah's state legislature mandated the addition of the four CAGE questions - a common set of questions used to identify substance use problems - to their comprehensive screening tool in an effort to identify clients with substance abuse problems earlier in the process. Officials in Utah said that TANF clients often mask substance abuse problems. However, identifying unobserved barriers as early as possible is very important since the agency has 36 months to treat clients and help them find work.
36 States that established state time limits under a pre-PRWORA federal waiver that differ from the federal time limit defined under PRWORA can continue to operate under the waiver if they choose. For the duration for which the waiver was granted, the state is not required to comply with the provisions of PRWORA that are inconsistent with the waiver (so long as they noted this "inconsistency" in the state TANF plan). When the waiver expires, the state must impose the federal time limit.
37 Gallagher, L. Jerome et al. One Year after Federal Welfare Reform: A Description of State Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Decisions as of October 1997. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, June 1998.
38 After 18 months of assistance in Tennessee, a family must wait at least three months before becoming eligible for another 18 months of assistance. Families in Tennessee are allowed a total of 36 months of TANF assistance.
What Opportunities and Limitations are Presented by Work Requirements?
There are two key aspects of work requirements that must be considered when thinking about how TANF work policies affect clients with unobserved barriers to employment. First, states face work participation rates with strict federal requirements regarding how to calculate the rates. Second, states have the flexibility to allow clients to engage in activities beyond those that count toward the rate calculation. Thus, the list of allowable work activities defined by a state may be broader than the activities defined in PRWORA as countable toward work participation rates.43
States vary in terms of both the types of work requirements they impose on TANF recipients (i.e., how soon client must engage in activities and how many hours they must participate) and the types of work activities that are allowed to show compliance with the work requirement. Under federal law, TANF recipients are required to conduct some work activity within 24 months of receiving TANF, but the definition of the work requirement is left to states, and gives states the discretion to impose requirements sooner than 24 months. Below we discuss factors important to determining what activities TANF recipients may engage in and how this decision is influenced by federal work participation rate requirements.
43 States that defined work activities differently under a pre-PRWORA federal waiver than how they are defined under PRWORA can continue to calculate their work participation rate using the state's definition for the duration of the waiver (so long as they noted this "inconsistency" in the state TANF plan). When the waiver expires, the rate will have to be calculated based on the definition of work discussed in this report.