Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization

February 11, 2003

CCD Letter to Representatives Regarding TANF Reauthorization


February 11, 2003


Dear Representative:

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is a coalition of approximately 100 national consumer, advocacy, provider and professional organizations headquartered in Washington, DC. We work together to advocate for national public policy that ensures the self determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. The CCD TANF Task Force seeks to ensure that families that include persons with disabilities are afforded equal opportunities and appropriate accommodations under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. We are very concerned that the provisions in HR 4 will greatly harm, rather than help, families in which there is an adult or a child with disabilities. We are writing to urge you to vote "no" on HR 4, the "Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2003."

Some argue that those who are concerned about the needs of people with disabilities should welcome the emphasis in HR 4 upon higher work participation rates and increased hours of work, because then states will be required to work with parents with disabilities. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. It is important to understand that, without some flexibility, higher work requirements for states and for families will prevent states from helping move families with disabilities from welfare to work - at a pace that works best for the individual family and will have long-term benefits. If states face more rigid rules on rates and hours of participation, sanction rates will climb and people with disabilities and their families will continue to be heavily represented in their numbers.

Over 40 percent of TANF recipients have a disability, yet this important fact is largely unknown. In July 2002, GAO reported that overall, 44 percent of TANF recipients have impairments or are caring for a child with impairments, compared with 15 percent of the non-TANF population. Many face multiple barriers. GAO also reported that, in eight percent of TANF families, there is both a parent and a child with disabilities, compared to only one percent in non-TANF families. Also in July 2002, the HHS Office of the Inspector General agreed with GAO's findings.

What should this mean for TANF reauthorization? The problems facing TANF parents with disabilities are significant. But, just because a person has a disability which may be a barrier to work, this does not mean that she cannot work. With appropriate services and supports, including accommodations in state policies and procedures and in the work place, most parents with disabilities should be able to work and would very much like the opportunity to do so. While their policies vary, many states have taken some steps to help families with disabilities. Congress must encourage states to continue to develop their programs to serve people with disabilities - both adults and children - on TANF. We are very concerned that HR 4 does not do this.

Listed below are the key components that people with disabilities need in TANF reauthorization.

1. Permit states to determine how long a family will need rehab services and allow participation in rehab services to meet the full weekly work requirement for as long as the state determines the family needs. HR 4 provides that only three months of rehabilitative services can be counted as work activity. After three months, a person with a disability must climb a steep mountain of 24 hours of work before the state will get credit for providing her with any additional rehabilitative services. This is a formula for failure. To suggest that this will work because 16 hours of rehabilitative services can still be provided misses the point: people with disabilities and other barriers often are going to need intensive help - including mental health treatment, training that accommodates their learning disabilities, substance abuse treatment, services that address other barriers - before any other work activity will be appropriate. Many times, this help will take in excess of a year to result in good, long-lasting outcomes. This will not be possible under HR 4.

2. Protect families with barriers from unnecessary and inappropriate sanctioning. The 1996 law requires states to impose sanctions where a parent "refuses" to comply with a state work requirement. Unfortunately, many of those who are being sanctioned cannot comply - they are not refusing to comply, they simply cannot because of a disability or other barrier, or may not even understand what is being required of them. Efforts to increase the number of hours of required work activity and states' overall work participation rates are likely to harm these same families. Without strong protections against inappropriate sanctioning, it is likely that the number of inappropriate sanctions will increase. States should be required to have procedures that review a family's circumstances prior to the imposition of a sanction and determine whether modifications are needed to the requirements so that the family is better able to comply. Fairness dictates that all states have such basic policies. HR 4 does not include this protection.

3. Permit states to exempt parents caring for a child with a disability from the work requirement and time limit. States should have the option to exempt from the work requirement and time limit parents caring for a child with a disability if caring for the child prevents the parent from meeting the state's work requirement. Some states already do this. Appropriate, safe child care for children with disabilities is very difficult to find. In many areas, it is non-existent. The medical needs of some children require frequent medical visits and care. If the need for such care becomes unnecessary, parents then can be brought more fully into the program with their allotted time for receipt of benefits still intact.

4. For the previous provisions to be effective in helping families move from welfare to work and avoid inappropriate sanctioning, states must have screening and assessment policies and procedures that identify a family's barriers and the steps needed to assist the family to move to greater independence. Assessments should be done by qualified personnel. Because all later decisions hinge on the quality of the assessments, it is important that they be done by qualified personnel. Family self-sufficiency plans developed without meaningful assessments are all too likely to be ineffective, wasting state and federal resources and preventing families from receiving the assistance needed to move successfully from welfare to work.

As a result of all of the concerns raised above, we urge you to vote "NO" on H.R. 4. We also urge you to raise concerns about how families with disabilities will fare under this bill and to suggest that changes be made before the bill leaves conference.

For further information, please contact members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) TANF Task Force, including any of the co-chairs: Laurel Stine, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, 202-467-5730, laurels@bazelon.org; Kirsten Beronio, National Mental Health Association, 202-675-8413, kberonio@nmha.org; Donna Meltzer, Association of University Centers on Disability, 301-593-8549, dlmeltzer@aucd.org; and Sharon McDonald, National Alliance to End Homelessness, 202-638-1526, ext. 109, smcdonald@naeh.org.

Thank you for considering our concerns.

Sincerely,

Adapted Physical Activity Council
American Network of Community Options and Resources
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Learning Disabilities Association of America
National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems
National Association of School Psychologists
National Mental Health Association
National Respite Coalition
NISH - creating employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities
Research Institute for Independent Living
The Arc of the United States
United Cerebral Palsy