December 1, 2023
RE: Docket ID number 2023-21169, RIN 0970-AC97, “Strengthening Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as a Safety Net and Work Program”
The Center for Community Solutions thanks the Administration for Children and Families for the close review of regulations for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program with the goal of refocusing on those families most in need. By and large, we think that these proposed changes will move the program in a positive direction, but ultimately a comprehensive overhaul of TANF will be needed to see marked change.
Our comments will be focused on the first three proposed changes.
Proposed change #1, “establish a ceiling on the term “needy””
We support this change. Capping the definition of “needy” at 200 percent of the federal poverty level aligns with our general understanding of the focus of TANF. The expectation that those who provide services using TANF dollars focus on families living below 200% FPL is reasonable. Our hope with this rule change is that there is continued engagement from ACF with states to explore the programs that they are supporting with TANF dollars and assess the value they provide to needy families. Ultimately, only effective programs that are truly assisting families should continue to be supported.
Proposed change #2, “clarify when an expenditure is “reasonably calculated to accomplish a TANF purpose”
This is an important change for TANF but must be carefully implemented. There are certainly programs currently supported with TANF dollars that are providing impactful services and support to families that may not immediately show themselves to be aligned with a TANF purpose or perhaps have aligned themselves with one purpose but should be aligned with another. States should be given sufficient time and support from ACF to engage with TANF fund recipients and for those that are clearly helping low-income families, help them walk through the process of showing their connections to TANF and its purposes.
In Ohio, we have seen scrambles for TANF dollars through the state’s biennial budget process. While many of the recipients of these TANF dollars are certainly doing TANF-aligned work, we do not have much insight into the actual accounting or use of these funds. Support from ACF to the states and TANF funded agencies would be helpful in better understanding the programming that is supported with TANF dollars.
Proposed change #3, “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”
We understand the impetus for this change, and while we know that Ohio is not at much risk if this shift occurs, we do foresee some issues that should be explored. For states that count a significant amount of third-party contributions toward MOE, does ACF expect that these states will be able to easily make up this gap with state dollars? And ultimately, we want states to continue to invest in programs that support families who are low-income, is this the way to encourage that? Or will we just see shuffling around of existing state dollars? At a minimum, we recommend a long off-ramp for this change, if it is to go into effect, to allow time for states to adjust.
In Ohio, allowing the ability for third-party MOE has created strong and enduring partnerships with organizations that are committed to helping Ohio families who are struggling. While we recognize this may not be the case in other states, the opportunity for the state to partner with third parties has strengthened Ohio’s ability to provide meaningful services to low-income families.
Overall, we are always appreciative for a chance to explore making improvements to the TANF program. It is something our organization has spent significant time with, including making recommendations for improvement. The desire through these proposed rules to refocus the program and support more families is positive. We strive to move this program from one of box-checking and barely reaching any families to a program that brings impactful investments to families and communities.
Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
The Center for Community Solutions