Academic journal article Social Work

Issues in Implementing TANF in New York: The Perspective of Frontline Workers

Academic journal article Social Work

Issues in Implementing TANF in New York: The Perspective of Frontline Workers

Article excerpt

With the passage of the new welfare law, the Personal Responsibility and Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193), Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was abolished and replaced by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a block grant program that not only limits federal expenditures for state welfare programs, but also removes most of the federal conditions attached to AFDC, including entitlement to welfare for poor women and their children. Although state and local agencies are assuming greater control of welfare programs under TANF, they are required to comply with a number of federal requirements, including new work requirements for welfare recipients and a five-year lifetime limit on federal benefits for families. The legislation also makes provisions for exempting some recipients from the five-year limit on benefits and for exempting victims of domestic violence from that requirement as well as from work and child support enforcement requirements. Under the new welfare law , front-line workers, who serve as the gatekeepers to the nation's welfare programs and are charged with the day-to-day operations, may play critical roles, involving increased levels of administrative discretion.

The purpose of the study discussed in this article was to examine the perspectives of frontline welfare workers on the implementation of the Family Violence Option, expanded work requirements, time limits for benefits, and roles and functions of front-line workers. Because this was an exploratory study occurring concurrently with initial phases of TANF implementation, we used focus groups of frontline workers as an initial step in identifying emerging issues in program implementation.

BACKGROUND

TANF Provisions

To receive full block grant funding from the federal government under TANF, states must meet several requirements. First, states may not use federal TANF funds to support a family for longer than five years. States, however, are free to use their own funds to support families beyond the five-year limit or to impose shorter time limits. Second, states must engage a percentage of their adult recipients in work or work-related activities. The participation rate for all families receiving TANF began at 25 percent in fiscal year 1997 and increased to 50 percent by fiscal year 2002. The minimum hours of required participation also increased over time, reaching 30 hours each week by fiscal year 2000. In addition, states are required to engage adult recipients in work activities after they have received assistance for two years.

A wide range of activities may be counted toward the participation rate, including job search, unsubsidized employment, subsidized private or public employment, work experience, community service and on-the-job training. However, educational activities have been severely restricted under TANF; only 30 percent of those meeting the work requirements, not the entire caseload, may participate in vocational education and training.

For some families, the lifetime limit on welfare benefits and the work requirements may impose significant hardships and difficulties. Congress addressed this possibility through two provisions. First, states are allowed to exempt up to 20 percent of the caseload from the five-year time limit for TANF benefits because "of hardship or if the family includes an individual who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty" (42 U.S.C. 608 (a)(7)(C)(i)). "Hardship" is not defined in the legislation, but the legislation provides definitions of battering and extreme cruelty, which include actual or threatened physical injury, sexual abuse, threatened or attempted physical or sexual abuse, and mental abuse. Implementation of both hardship and the battering and extreme cruelty provisions are subject to further state interpretation, and their application to particular cases may rest with front-line workers. …

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