Temporary Assistance for Needy Families:

Workforce Participation Requirement Waivers

GAO-13-423T: Published: Feb 28, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2013.

Additional Materials:


Kay E. Brown
(202) 512-7215


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

Although many states requested and received waivers under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, no section 1115 waivers of TANF requirements have been granted by HHS since TANF's creation in 1996. Since 2000, several states have expressed interest in the availability of waivers. For example, in 2001, one state asked HHS about waiving various requirements including the work participation requirement, due to an emergency situation caused by a terrorist attack. The Assistant Secretary for Children and Families or TANF program staff have generally responded that the requested waiver authority was not available. Between when HHS issued its July 12, 2012 Information Memorandum and September 6, 2012, eight states expressed interest in pursuing waivers, but no state had officially requested one.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses waivers related to work participation provisions in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. TANF provides $16.5 billion to the states each year to assist low-income families and requires states to meet work participation rates to ensure that a specific percentage of families receiving TANF include a member engaged in work activities that are defined by federal law. Under section 1115 of the Social Security Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the authority to waive compliance with certain provisions of that Act, including some related to TANF. In its July 12, 2012, Information Memorandum, HHS asserted that this authority includes the ability to waive TANF requirements related to definitions of work activities and the calculation of work participation rates. HHS informed states that it would use this waiver authority to allow states to test various strategies, policies, and procedures designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families. The Information Memorandum sets forth requirements that must be met for a waiver request to be considered by HHS, including an evaluation plan, a set of performance measures that states will track to monitor ongoing performance and outcomes, and a budget including the costs of program evaluation. In addition, the Information Memorandum provides that states must seek public input on the proposal prior to approval by HHS. This testimony is based primarily on our September 2012 correspondence examining waivers related to TANF and will address key findings from this correspondence on whether (1) HHS had granted any TANF waivers or previously indicated it had the authority to waive TANF work requirements, and (2) any states requested waivers of TANF work requirements or any other provision of TANF since 1996..

For more information contact Kay E. Brown at (202) 512-7215 or brownke@gao.gov.

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