Critical Issues & Initial Answers: Recommendations for TANF Reauthorization

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In August of 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). Among other things, this law replaced the nation’s existing welfare program, called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), with a new welfare-to-work program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The TANF legislation eliminated the federal entitlement to public assistance, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on aid receipt, and established strict work and participation rate requirements for those receiving cash benefits. By September 2002, Congress must pass, or “reauthorize,” the law in order to continue the TANF program’s funding and may choose to revise its key policies based on lessons learned since 1996. Policymakers and advocates are already developing proposals and strategies for TANF reauthorization.

The Chicago Jobs Council (CJC) has had a long-standing interest in the design and implementation of the TANF program. Our involvement is driven by the front-line experience of our 100 members in providing employment services to and advocating on behalf of low-income families in Chicago. This paper is grounded in the lessons we have learned from Illinois’ TANF implementation and our members’ expertise in successfully moving welfare participants and other low-income families into the workforce and out of poverty. It also pulls together a variety of research efforts that have gathered information on how current and former welfare participants have fared under the 1996 welfare reform law. We hope both federal and state policymakers will consider our recommendations as the nation debates the funding and program issues of TANF reauthorization. We also believe this paper can help inform businesses as well as philanthropic and community-based organizations about the implications this policy review could have for their respective constituencies.

The Basics Download (PDF, 38 KB)

In order to provide the background and context of our recommendations, three summaries of local, state, and national research are included in this paper:

  • TANF Program Basics
  • Lessons Learned from TANF Implementation
  • TANF Reauthorization Basics

Recommendations Download (PDF, 52 KB)

In order to ensure that welfare reform includes strategies for poverty reduction, this paper offers insight on the realities of the current TANF environment as well as a series of specific approaches designed to achieve our overarching recommendations for change:

  1. Preserve and improve the safety net for both working and non-working individuals and families facing employment barriers.
  2. Build flexibility into policies to accommodate the dynamic, and often non-linear, process of moving from welfare to work.
  3. Value lifelong learning as an essential element to poverty reduction.
  4. Make work pay with a range of job- and income-related supports.
  5. Measure, reward and monitor states according to participants’ meaningful educational, personal and employment gains.
  6. Invest in the nation’s workforce with increased funding for education, training and work-related supports.