In order to beat their end-of-September-deadline, the House of Representatives passed a short-term extension of TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Kentucky’s own Congressman Geoff Davis led the reauthorization effort as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

This good news means that funding provided to states through block grants for programs like income assistance for low-income families with children, welfare-to-work efforts, work supports such as child care, and other social services for low-income families will not be interrupted. In light of the increasing child poverty rate in Kentucky, these services and programs are particularly crucial.

Kentucky’s TANF block grant program is the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP). KTAP provides cash assistance to families with children that are unable to meet basic needs, while requiring work activities of parents to move families toward self-sufficiency. It is important to note that:

  • While cash benefits are meager and only equal 17 percent of the poverty level in Kentucky, they provide much-needed cash assistance to families at critical times in their lives, such as periods of unemployment or disability, when escaping from domestic violence, or when a baby is born.
  • Participation in KTAP helps Kentucky families achieve financial self-sufficiency, according to a study of KTAP recipients during the early years of the program. Three out of four recipients stopped receiving KTAP Benefits within 24 months, and average household income increased each year after exiting KTAP.
  • Kentucky’s child welfare programs rely on federal funding. Federal support makes up 40 percent of child welfare funds Kentucky receives. Of these funds, 32 percent comes from TANF.
  • An average of 36,995 Kentucky children per month received KTAP benefits in 2009.

KTAP is an essential safety net for very low-income families with children; however it has a few flaws that need to be addressed before a long-term reauthorization happens. In a floor statement, Congressman Davis outlined the need for further examination and reform of TANF.

Further examination and reform is particularly crucial for TANF because more can be done to ensure it is efficiently and effectively helping those families in need. As the Senate takes up the reauthorization, and when the issue is revisited early next year, we urge our Congressmen, spearheaded by Congressman Davis, to take into account the following recommendations:

  • Establish a child poverty reduction target within the TANF program.
  • Fully fund the TANF block grant and the Supplemental Grants
  • Ensure money  is kept in the contingency fund to help states deal with increased demands for assistance
  • Provide for additional flexibility to allow more people to participate in education and training while the economy is weak to meet the work requirement.