CHN: New Regulations Issued For Temporary Assistance For Needy Families
New federal regulations that will change the way states administer welfare to work assistance for poor families with children were issued on June 29 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These new regulations were required by the federal “Deficit Reduction Act,” legislation enacted at the end of 2005. The law called for HHS to develop regulations by June 30 that, among other things, would more specifically define the work activities that are required in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; determine whether or when a parent or other head of household should be counted in the work participation rates even though he or she is not receiving assistance under the family’s grant; and set uniform standards for counting and verifying hours of work participation.
Proceeding on a fast track, the regulations are now considering interim final. They were not available for comment earlier and took effect immediately upon publication; comments may now be forwarded to HHS up through August 28 (see regulations’ first page of text for information about how to submit comments).
While Congress required HHS to regulate in areas previously left to the states, the federal legislation did not dictate how HHS was to craft its definitions and standards. It appears that HHS has chosen to force states to make services far more restrictive in significant ways – limiting the duration and range of education and other services that help parents to overcome barriers to employment, and penalizing states that have been providing cash assistance to children in cases where their parents or other caregivers are ineligible for cash aid. The regulations, for example, make it far harder for states to count English as a Second Language training as a work activity that will count in the participation rates. They also restrict states’ flexibility to combine certain forms of training, job search and readiness activities, therapies or rehabilitation with community service or work experience to enable parents to prepare effectively for work. Many of these activities would be limited in most states to six weeks per fiscal year (with only 4 weeks of that consecutive). These restrictions may preclude the use of packages of services with proven effectiveness. In addition, the regulations require far more supervision for some activities than most states have typically provided – for instance, daily supervision for job search. While more direct help could well be very useful for parents, it could easily translate into onerous meeting requirements that will increase the likelihood of penalties against the families.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy are collaborating on an in-depth analysis of the regulations, which will be available on their websites soon. Initially, see the statement by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at http://www.cbpp.org/6-28-06tanf-stmt.htm.