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TN House passes legislation strengthening TANF program

The Tennessee House chamber last Thursday unanimously passed legislation strengthening and improving the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

House Bill 142 was recommended by a group appointed to study possible changes to the program, which currently has $710 million in reserves. The funds, which come from a federal block grant, provides support to working families such as child care assistance, temporary cash assistance, transportation, job training, employment activities and other support services offered through the state’s Families First Program.

This legislation creates a two-year pilot program which provides enhanced cash assistance to individuals who are actively pursuing educational opportunities. The bill also distributes $180 million through a new Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program, which will create large-scale programs benefiting TANF recipients. The legislation also increases the TANF allotment.  For example, it increases the monthly amount a family of three receive from $277 to $387. 

House Bill 142 will create the Families First Community Grants to infuse $50 million in TANF reserves funds into the community through grants to organizations providing services to low-income families. It includes the Two-Generation program, which focuses on intergenerational poverty through a “whole family” approach by combining parent and child interventions to break the cycle of poverty and create a pathway to economic security. 

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The bill requires that $191 million will be reserved to ensure the program’s stability during an economic downturn.  However, once those reserves are in place, it provides that funding not spent from the department’s previous year will be used for community grants that will be spread statewide to build stronger families and a thriving Tennessee. ​

Finally, the bill creates The TANF Advisory Board consisting of up to 21 people to approve grantees and provide important input regarding the effectiveness of existing Families First and Two-Generation Program policies and grant programs.  The board will also be responsible for selecting recipients for Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program grants, community grants and selecting research partners to evaluate the successes of grant programs awarded through TANF.

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