Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it is willing to
waive certain federal work participation standards under the Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to permit states to
experiment with “alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and
procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.” The
major provision that HHS would waive is the numerical performance standards
that states must meet or risk being penalized through a reduction in their
TANF block grant. HHS announced this initiative on July 12, 2012.
The TANF statute provides that 50% of all families and 90% of two-parent
families included in a participation rate are required to be engaged in
work, though few states have ever faced the full standard because this
percentage is reduced for certain credits. For all years from FY2002 through
FY2006 and in FY2008 and FY2009, the majority of states had an effective
(after-credit) TANF work participation standard of 25% or less. In FY2009,
22 states had their 50% all family standard reduced to 0% because of these
credits. Additionally, many states have avoided the twoparent standard
altogether by assisting that portion of their caseload with state funds not
subject to TANF work standards.
To be considered engaged in work under the TANF standard, a family must either
be working or in specified welfare-to-work activities for a minimum number
of hours per week. Preemployment activities such as job search,
rehabilitative activities, and education count for a limited period of
time or under limited circumstances. Though these counting rules do not apply directly
to individual recipients, they may influence how a state designs its
welfare-to-work program. States that allow participation in activities
that cannot be counted (e.g., job search or education in excess of their
limits) do not receive credit for that participation and potentially risk failing
the work standard.
The new waivers would permit states to have welfare-to-work initiatives
assessed using different measures than the TANF work participation rate.
Thus, states could test alternative welfare-towork approaches by engaging
recipients in activities currently not countable without risk of losing
block grant funds. States would have to apply for waivers, which must be
approved by HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). States
would also be required to monitor performance measures and evaluate the
alternative welfare-to-work program. HHS also indicated it might waive
some requirements that apply to states for verifying work activities.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has determined that the waiver
initiative constitutes a “rule,” subject to the Congressional Review Act
(CRA). Under the CRA, if a “resolution of disapproval” is passed by
Congress and signed by the President (or the President’s veto is
overridden), the waiver initiative could not take effect. On September 20,
2012, the House passed such a “resolution of disapproval” (H.J.Res. 118)
of the waiver initiative.
The legislative authority cited by HHS to grant waivers in public assistance
programs dates back to 1962, although the new initiative would allow the
first new waivers to test welfare-to-work strategies in more than 15
years. “Waivers” have historically been important in welfare reform, and
TANF let states continue their pre-1996 waivers until their expiration. The last
such waiver expired in 2007.
Date of Report: November 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 33 Order Number: R42627 Price: $29.95
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