House calls for changes in TANF

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Paloma Steele/Staff Writer

Recently Republican members of the US House of Representatives tried to push through a bill banning the use of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program cards at certain locations such as liquor stores, topless bars and casinos, according to a CNN editorial, “‘Strip club bill’ a no-brainer.” The bill would force states to develop policies to prevent this from happening.

TANF was created to provide one-time cash assistance or a six-month period of monthly assistance to working poor families “using what amounts to a debit card,” according to the editorial. “Last year, about 1.8 million families received a few hundred federal dollars each month to help make ends meet. It’s meant to pay for necessities like food and rent. The average American can relate to that, because a lot of us have been there.”

TWC maintains that “employment is the goal” of the TANF Program.  DMC student Haley Williams, a single parent, said she receives TANF and although the amounts disbursed are small, she is grateful for the assistance.

The TANF one-time benefit consists of $1000 for those who qualify based on previous month’s income, according to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) website ( TANF is decided on a case-by-case basis and can be affected by household size, number of dependents, citizenship, resources and recipients’ income, says an employee of the local Health and Human Services (HHS) Office who wished to remain anonymous.

The employee said, “the regulations for qualification are pre-set per legislation.”
In addition to the monetary benefits, the TANF program previously included support services such as childcare, transportation assistance and other services designed to enable the participant to work and remain employed, according to TWC, but many of these support services lost funding and have been downsized.

According to CNN recently TANF experienced cuts of more than 20 percent despite the slow economic recovery from the recession. This resulted in a significant blow to the amount appropriated to support services such as childcare.

The funds are provided via the Lone Star Card, the same one used for Food Stamp disbursements. Funds in this account can be withdrawn as cash to be used anywhere the recipient sees fit. The HHS employee said, “Food Stamp benefits will only cover seeds and edibles at most grocers or convenience stores. TANF can be used for any household items.”

The way in which recipients obtain their funds from the TANF cards is what is being questioned by legislators. According to CNN, “Media reports say that some of those cards were used in ATMs in strip clubs, liquor stores, Las Vegas casinos, even cruise ships . . .”

However, another CNN article, “House bill bans welfare spending at strip clubs,” notes that “many low-income Americans live in areas where banks are scarce, making it hard for them to find an ATM . . . Barring them from using ATMs in liquor stores or casinos could mean recipients have to travel farther or pay higher fees to access their benefits.”

Melissa Boteach, manager of the Half in Ten Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the effort of debating the benefits of TANF and the locations where the cards should be used is wasted “congressional floor time.” She said time would be better spent “putting Americans back to work and rebuilding our middle class.”

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