An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer leads CCLP’s work to help people meet their basic needs and expand economic opportunity. She also coordinates the Skills2Compete Colorado Coaliton and serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

Mar 29, 2022

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What you need to know about TANF and HB22-1259

by | Mar 29, 2022

A mom flees domestic violence with her child.

A neighbor has a stroke and her daughter and grandchild move back to Colorado to care for her.

A clerk at the local store is fired after her child is hospitalized for complications of an asthma attack once too often.

Your local restaurant closed its doors. For your favorite waitress, a mom, it was it the only potential employer in walking distance where she could find a job without a high school diploma or car.

In dire circumstances, many families seek help from family or friends. But others do not have family nearby and their friends may be living paycheck to paycheck themselves.

What role does, or should, government play to help such families with children?

Colorado receives about $140 million per year in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds from the federal government. The amount of that TANF block grant has not once been increased to reflect inflation, nor Colorado’s massive population growth, since TANF was created by Congress way back in 1996. That money must be matched at about 20% in local or state funds — referred to as “maintenance of effort.”

Currently, in Colorado, that match comes from the counties; historically, this state has not invested money in this program. It is time for that to change, given how targeted and effective this program is in reaching children most in need.

What help can families in economic crisis receive through the TANF Program? Much is discretionary, depending on the county and the caseworker.

  1. If a family of parent and one child has less than $331 in income per month, that family may be eligible for a monthly grant of up to $400, plus SNAP, to help meet basic needs. For a parent of two children, income must be under $421 per month to receive up to $508 per month. (Families with income above these limits may be eligible for one time aid or non-cash services.)
  2. The family will likely be assigned a case manager to help them develop a plan to develop economic stability. That might include job readiness training, digital literacy training, or other short- term skills training.
  3. The family will likely receive help obtaining SNAP, Medicaid, Child Care, add other support services for employment. They might also get connected to counseling if they need it.
  4. In cases where the parent or child has significant disabilities which make employment unlikely, they may receive help applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for themselves or a child, or for Social Security Disability if they qualify.

In exchange for the monthly grant, the parent must participate in work-related activities for 30 hours per week, or 20 hours per week if the child is under six. The 12,000 – 14,000 Colorado families receiving the monthly grant are in the Colorado Works Program.

What are the limitations of the current TANF program?

Many of the current limitations are baked into the 1996 federal law:

  • As referenced before, federal funding for TANF is flat, meaning this support for Colorado families has lost more than 40% of its value since 1996.
  • The federal “work participation rate” requirement redirects limited staff time into compliance tracking — ensuring that program beneficiaries spend their required 30 hours each week on “Countable” and “Allowable activities” — activities that do not even necessarily result in employment opportunities.
  • Perhaps most shockingly, the “caseload reduction credit” built into the federal law actually rewards government for not serving people, incentivizing states to discourage use of the program and sanction people off the program. Shrinking caseloads across the nation do not reflect beneficiaries leaving for stable employment, but rather, people leaving, or being sanctioned off of, a program that does not work for them.

Another basic limitation is the lack of a smooth off-ramp from welfare to work. While Colorado does not count two-thirds of new employment income against eligibility when a participant gets a job, even a 30 hour per week minimum wage job will throw most participants into ineligibility, resulting in loss of TANF and other supports. A parent with only one child would lose TANF eligibility after accepting merely a 20 hour per week job paying minimum wage.

What can we do to elevate TANF’s impact in Colorado?

In conjunction with Colorado Children’s Coalition, the TANF Coalition and dozens of other organizations, CCLP is working on HB22-1259: Concerning the Colorado Works Program.

Core provisions of this bill would:

  1. Raise the TANF month grant, currently equal to just 28% of the federal poverty level, far below the census standard for “extreme poverty”, or 50% of FPL. For a family with two children, this 28% of FPL currently works out to a maximum of only $508 per month.
  2. Adjust the earned income disregard and/or the outrageously low eligibility standard of need so that families do not lose their TANF grant and other support within weeks of obtaining employment.
  3. Minimize first sanctions against a family. Currently, missing one appointment could result in loss of 25% of the meager TANF grant, throwing a family already facing great difficulties into crisis.
  4. Provide outreach on the program, so that struggling families know about its availability. And communicate clearly to participants what the program can offer them. The bill would also build in program feedback and recommendations from those participating or leaving the program.

Some of Colorado’s most vulnerable families receive TANF. At its best, TANF can help stabilize families and help them set a course for a more economically promising future. But to make the positive impact on Colorado families and our state economy, we must do more. HB22-1259 deserves our support.

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