Perhaps one of the wonkiest activities as a nonpartisan think tank is submitting comments in the rulemaking process, both at the state and federal levels. Right now, there is an opportunity to comment on some significant changes proposed for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Last month, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) related to TANF in the Federal Register. Comments on the proposed changes are due December 1, 2023.
Right now, there is an opportunity to comment on some significant changes proposed for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
Funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has remained unchanged since 1996
The TANF program has been largely unchanged since it was established under President Bill Clinton in 1996, with some adjustments in the early 2000s under President George W. Bush. Namely, the funding levels for TANF, which is funded by the federal government as a block grant, have remained stagnant since its inception and the program is now worth 50 percent less than it was in 1996. States must contribute a maintenance of effort (MOE), which is comprised of both state dollars and dollars spent and services provided by third-party partners who support families living in poverty, food banks for example. And this brings us to one of the proposed changes to the TANF rules…disallowing counting of third-party contributions toward MOE. This shift away from third-party MOE could impact contributions to Ohio’s MOE and that of other states.
Seven proposed changes to the TANF rules
These proposed changes were captured directly from the notice of proposed rulemaking, NPRM.
- Establish a ceiling on the term “needy”
- Clarify when an expenditure is “reasonably calculated to accomplish a TANF purpose”
- Exclude as an allowable TANF maintenance-of-effort (MOE) expenditures cash donations from non-governmental third parties and the value of third-party in-kind contributions
- Ensure that excused holidays match the number of federal holidays, following the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday
- Develop new criteria to allow states to use alternative Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS) measures
- Clarify the “significant progress” criteria following a work participation rate corrective compliance plan
- Clarify the existing regulatory text about the allowability of costs associated with disseminating program information
There is a thorough description in the federal register of ACF’s reasoning for these particular proposed changes. In a nutshell, ACF cites a general underinvestment by states in “work, education and training for parents with low incomes as well as critical work supports.” In addition, ACF states “instead of a focus on cash assistance, work, and critical work supports like childcare, states are spending TANF and MOE funds on a wide range of benefits and services, including some with tenuous connections to a TANF purpose and, in some instances, providing supports for families with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.”
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) cites a general underinvestment by states in “work, education and training for parents with low incomes as well as critical work supports.”
Under TANF, each state developed its own detailed program. We have written extensively about Ohio’s program, including more recently based on the current state budget and in the spring during the federal budget deliberations. These resources can offer more insight into Ohio’s TANF program, but each state’s program looks different and ACF’s general description of the current issues applies differently to each state. Each state will be impacted differently if these changes were to go into effect, some significantly, others less so.
Comments on the TANF proposed changes are due December 1, 2023
These can be submitted electronically, and the instructions are included below:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
- Email comments to: TANFquestions@acf.hhs.gov.
- Instructions: All submissions received must include the agency name and docket number (2023-21169) or RIN (0970–AC79) for this rulemaking. All comments received will be posted without change to https://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided.
We will have more to say soon about this in the comments we’re developing. Right now, we hope to raise awareness of the opportunity for comments to be submitted. Wondering how others are weighing in? Read the comments here.