Vietnam and TANF

Today southern Oregon hosted the 370 foot Traveling Wall””a 4/5 scale reproduction of the black, hauntingly beautiful Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. As I surveyed the 58,195 names of American soldiers who died in Vietnam, my heart was heavy with the burden of such an infinite loss of Human potential.

President Reagan summed my feelings when he said: “It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our minds as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray-haired. But most of them were boys when they died. They gave up two lives””the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered as old men. They gave up everything for their country, for us. All we can do is remember.”

As a Vietnam veteran, I was honored to address those who gathered at the hollowed grounds in front of the Traveling Wall. (If you care to read my brief remarks on American patriotism, they are available online.)

Regarding TANF: In my last newsletter I mentioned my concerns over the horrific $46 Trillion debt being foisted on the shoulders of the rising generation of American taxpayers. I also mentioned the proposed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) regulations that will make it harder for Oregon and 46 other states to avoid reductions in federal TANF dollars. I flew to Seattle (not at government expense) to meet with the federal TANF regulators and get answers to questions relating to the new regulations. DHS Director Bruce Goldberg and two key DHS advisors were also there, along with representatives from several other states.

The head of the Federal TANF program, Dr. Wade Horn, presented explanations of the proposed TANF regulations, as did other federal TANF regulators.

Although I went to the meeting concerned that the proposed TANF regulations were essentially a ruse to enable the Feds to inflict further cuts in welfare support to the States, I came away from the meeting somewhat reassured. While it may be true the federal government will budget less to TANF, based on expectations that some states will fail to comply with the proposed regulations, it is also true that TANF is a welfare-to-work program, and many states have treated it like an old-fashioned long-term entitlement program.

In short, it appears the Feds are primarily trying to motivate the states to comply with the provisions of the 1996 law and work harder to help welfare recipients become employed and self-sufficient. Director Goldberg and I are both writing letters to the Health and Human Services Department requesting minor amendments to the proposed final rules.

If we are successful in getting adjustments in the final regulations, Oregon should be able to comply without incurring penalties and resulting loss of federal funds. In addition, Oregon will, hopefully, be in harmony with the intentions of providing temporary assistance for needy families while helping them become self-sufficient.

Nevertheless, there are TANF recipients who cannot get employment because they have severe barriers such as drug addiction and mental illness. Since TANF is a welfare-to-work program, those folks should not have been placed on TANF to begin with, and should be re-evaluated accordingly.

For those who want additional information on the discussions that took place in Seattle, I have summarized the key issues into the following hypothetical Q. and A.:

State Concern: The proposed increase in federal funding is inadequate to pay for the additional costs to meet the new participant work requirements.

Federal Response: The participant work requirements are not new, but are the same as in the 1996 congressional legislation. States were given 5 years to meet the 50% work requirement and broad latitude in determining how to do it. Unfortunately, only 3 states have met the work participation requirements, so the proposed regulations will merely make states accountable for complying with the 1996 law. The extra funding is an additional benefit to help the states accomplish the requirements of the 1996 legislation.

State Concern: The proposed TANF regulations will force many TANF families to drop out of college or A & D Treatment programs because they will have to go to work to meet the requirements.

Federal Response: The Federal law requires only 50% of adult TANF participants to work 20 or 30 hours per week””not 100% or even 75%…only 50%. Congress understood there would be cases where participants could not meet the work requirement, so the state caseworkers can direct those cases into the 50% of TANF participants who are not required to work. In addition, most A & D treatment requires only a few hours per week of meetings and consultations. TANF is a program to get people back to work. Congress believes in addition to the financial benefits, it is a good health practice for every able-bodied person to work, and the 50% requirement generally requires only 4-6 hours of work per day, so there should be plenty of other time in a day to do treatment or other things.

State Concern: The states fear having to pay penalties for failure to comply with requirements beginning on October 1, 2006 when there has not been enough time to ramp-up state programs, procedures and personnel to meet the requirements.

Federal Response: The 50% work requirement is an average over a full year, so inadequate percentages in the first months could be compensated for by higher percentages in the later months. Even if a state fails to meet the 50% or other requirements, there might not be an actual penalty felt by the states until 2010. Here’s why.

— The first year for which the 50% requirement applies begins October 1, 2006 and goes to September 31, 2007. The data for that year will be due by December 2007.
— New rates will then be set by July 1, 2008 for the following year.
— If the state failed to meet the TANF requirements and proposes a “corrective action plan,” by November 2008, the federal penalties will be suspended for another year to give time for the corrective action plan to be implemented.
— The corrective action plan will apply to the October 1, 2008 — September 31, 2009 year.
— Data for that year will be due in December 2009.
— If the corrective action plan failed to achieve the required percentages, a new rate with the penalties will be calculated by July 1, 2010, and
— The new rate with penalties will not go into effect until the year beginning October 1, 2010.
— Thus, it is the federal government’s goal not to punish the states but to encourage the states to strive for compliance.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative
Speaker Pro Tempore