Technically, the only exemption to the federal time limit is the 20 percent hardship exemption mentioned above. However, states have established exemptions to their shorter state time limits. Many of these exemptions are given to clients due to age, disability, or the need to care for a disabled household member. It is important to note that although a person may be exempt from a state time limit, if during this time she receives federally funded TANF "assistance," such as a cash benefit funded by the TANF block grant, the 60-month federal time limit will still apply.
Arkansas offers an example of how a state exempts clients from a shorter state time limit while being assessed. In Arkansas, if a caseworker suspects a client may have a learning disability, the client is placed in deferred status and referred to the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) for assessment. While in deferred status, the client's 24-month state time clock is not counting. If the assessment determines that the client is "too impaired" for ARS services, the client remains deferred and her 24-month clock remains stopped. When Arkansas first began TANF, the clock continued to run for those temporarily deferred from the work requirement. However, state officials reported that TANF staff felt this was a poor policy and pushed for a legislative amendment (passed last year) to allow the state time clock to stop and to retroactively reset the clock for those identified with learning disabilities prior to the amendment.
An alternative to exempting recipients from time limits is to offer an extension to the eligibility period. As noted previously, states may effectively extend welfare eligibility by granting a "hardship" exemption or continuing to provide services with state funds. States also have the flexibility to offer extensions to shorter, state time limits. Twenty states offer extensions to time limits when the adults in the family have made a good faith effort to find employment but remain unemployed or underemployed.40 Domestic violence is the most common reason for extensions - unemployment or underemployment are the second.
Utah illustrates how a state with a time limit shorter than 60 months can use extensions to bridge the gap between state and federal time limits. In Utah, the state time limit is 36 months. In January 1997, the state legislature approved a bill that allows 20 percent of TANF recipients, or about 2,000 families, to exceed the state's three-year time limit.41 Therefore, this 20 percent is now eligible for state TANF benefits between 36 and 60 months. 42 Then, after 60 months, this group may also be eligible for the 20 percent federal hardship exemption, should Utah choose to define hardship to include them. Some of the state extension provisions - such as those in Maine, Michigan, and New York - enable TANF recipients to receive benefits beyond five years. However, in making decisions about time limit extensions, states must consider the fact that these extensions may prove costly in the long run.
It is widely assumed that declining caseloads will leave higher proportions of TANF clients with health conditions, disabilities and other circumstances that may negatively affect their ability to find or keep a job, presenting a greater challenge to states to address these issues within the time remaining. Should this assumption prove true, states may need to increasingly seek creative solutions to identify and address unobserved barriers to work using the flexibility allowed through federal and state time limit policies.
40 Center on Law and Social Policy and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. State Policy Documentation Project, February 2000.
41 State Capitals Newsletters. Utah House Passes Bill Extending Welfare for Violence Victims. Public Assistance and Welfare Trends, Vol. 54, No. 5. Alexandria, VA: State Capitals Newsletters, January 2000.
42 Thus, this law allows 20 percent of recipients to exceed the 36-month time limit.