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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
TANF Reauthorization: Opportunities to Reduce Poverty by Improving Employment Outcomes
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One goal of the 1996 welfare law was to reduce the number of families receiving cash assistance. Another goal was to promote employment among poor parents. In addition, for many, another goal of welfare policy is to reduce poverty among families with children and assist poor families to reach greater financial security. In theory, all of these goals can work in harmony if a policy and funding framework emphasizes preparation for and access to good jobs, and access to work supports such as subsidized child care, that enable families to find stability and security in the labor market. However, these goals are distinct and success in achieving one goal is not always matched by comparable success in achieving the others.

One important policy discussion during TANF reauthorization will concern the balance that should be struck among these potentially competing goals, and the strategies that states are allowed, encouraged, or required to undertake in achieving any agreed upon goals. In the following pages, we provide background on some of the key features of the original legislation that relate to work and information about the experience to date regarding employment and earnings for families receiving and leaving welfare. We then make specific recommendations for changes in TANF that could improve employment outcomes by encouraging better initial jobs, a stronger emphasis on advancement for low-earning workers, and better linkages to work supports for parents entering and working in low-wage jobs. (Authors)
Washington, D.C.