CHN: More Access to Education Possible Under TANF Final Rule

The Bush Administration published final regulations for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) on February 5. These are rules to implement changes in law enacted by Congress in 2006, as interpreted by the Administration.  Among the law’s changes was more authority to the federal Department of Health and Human Services to define allowable work activities.  (In the past, states were allowed to set their own definitions.)  When first proposed, the HHS rules were extremely restrictive, limiting the ability of states to establish workable education and training programs or to provide special work plans for people with disabilities.  Responding to some of the many comments about these new rules, the final regulations make it somewhat easier to provide education and training, but do not change the constraints on work activities for people with disabilities.
The final rule allows states to count education leading to a baccalaureate or higher degree as vocational education, reversing a restriction in the previous draft. States are also allowed to count unsupervised homework time towards the required hours of work participation.  In the initial draft, homework time would only count if performed in a supervised setting like a study hall.  Many had objected that such a requirement would impose more child care costs, state administrative burdens, and unnecessary additional pressures on parents juggling work, education, and care-giving responsibilities.

The new regulations loosen some restrictions on counting English as a Second Language training within vocational programs.

HHS rejected comments asking it to allow special work plans for people with disabilities that might reduce the hours of participation to accommodate the person’s special needs.  The final rules also bar states from counting activities that remove barriers to work as work experience or community service, categories some states had used to permit adults receiving TANF to engage in certain treatments or therapies, for example.  These barrier-removing activities will only be permissible for a limited number of weeks under the final rule.

For an analysis of the final rule, see “Summary of TANF Final Rule” by Elizabeth Lower-Basch at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

For the text of the final rule click here.

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