Welfare Reform:

More Coordinated Federal Effort Could Help States and Localities Move TANF Recipients With Impairments Toward Employment

GAO-02-37: Published: Oct 31, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 1, 2001.

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The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 significantly changed federal welfare policy for low-income families with children. The act eliminated eligible families' legal entitlement to cash assistance and created Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants to states. TANF emphasizes the importance of work and personal responsibility rather than dependence on government benefits. To avoid financial penalties, states must demonstrate yearly that an ever-increasing proportion of adults receiving TANF are working or engaged in work-related activities. The U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) for 1999 show that 44 percent of TANF recipients nationwide had physical or mental impairments, a proportion almost three times as high as among adults in the non-TANF population. The percentages of TANF adults with impairments from 1994 can not be compared to later years because Census broadened its measurements of mental impairments starting with its 1997 SIPP data. Most of the counties that screen for impairments rely on recipients' self-disclosure, which may not ensure the identification of some impairments that could interfere with employment. Still, for the one-third of counties that reported service data, fewer than half of recipients with impairments were receiving services to move them toward employment. This situation may be explained by the fact that many recipients were exempted from program work requirements. Federal agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education, have many research and technical assistance initiatives underway to facilitate state and local efforts to help TANF recipients with impairments become employed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS agreed that it should coordinate with other key federal agencies to make sure research and technical assistance are coordinated and disseminated. In its TANF reauthorization proposal, ACF identified the importance of additional flexibility for states to help ensure that people with impairments can be included in state TANF programs. Although ACF's annual performance plan did not include goals or measures to ensure this coordination occurs, it does acknowledge coordination issues as important in the TANF program. Moreover, the President has a New Freedom Initiative that highlights the importance of assisting individuals with disabilities, while HHS has sponsored studies and disseminated information on serving those with disabilities and included these issues in annual research conferences attended by state TANF officials and other program administrators. Finally, in the interim final rule that ACF issued to implement the statutory changes enacted in the reauthorization of the TANF program through 2010, it stated "we encourage states to make every effort to engage [TANF] individuals with disabilities in work activities... to help them become self-sufficient through work." TANF reauthorization was signed into law Feb. 8, 2006 and the Interim Final Rule was issued June 29, 2006. We believe that the ongoing research and dissemination efforts combined with the emphasis on TANF recipients with disabilities in the reauthorization and its implementing regulations justifies closing this recommendation with action taken: it ensures that ACF serves as the focal point for coordinating and disseminating the research and technical assistance of federal agencies to help states and counties access the information they need to move TANF recipients with impairments toward employment.

    Recommendation: As states and localities move forward to determine how best to serve TANF recipients with impairments, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as the lead TANF agency, should serve as the focal point for coordinating and disseminating the research and technical assistance of federal agencies to ensure that states and counties have access to the information they need to better indentify and move TANF recipients with impairments toward employment. To help ensure that this coordination occurs, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families should include strategies, goals, and measures in the Administration for Children and Families' annual performance plan to ensure that HHS partners with other key agencies, particularly Labor and Education, to take advantage of federal resources and knowledge related to helping TANF recipients with impairments move toward economic independence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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