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Phyllis Gilmore: TANF funds combat poverty

  • Published Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families has been criticized recently for maintaining a healthy reserve in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund. I would like to clarify the use of TANF funding.

TANF is a federal program, and since the 1996 welfare reforms, Kansas has received a yearly federal block grant of $101.9 million. The amount does not change based on when cash-assistance caseloads increase or decrease.

The federal program is designed to be a welfare-to-work program. The objective is to help families in need temporarily while assisting adults to obtain training, counseling, a high school diploma or equivalency, or certification through the Kansas Workforce Centers making people readily employable.

Preventing poverty is one of the primary purposes of TANF. That’s why DCF has used and continues to use TANF funds to prevent future poverty – breaking the cycle for generations to come. Prevention programs are not a quick fix, but they are effective.

To sustain current programs and invest in future efforts to prevent poverty, DCF has maintained a TANF reserve fund. Its balance is $48 million. Here’s a look at the fund amounts over multiple fiscal years and administrations: 2004, $34.2 million; 2005, $31.1 million; 2006, $21.8 million; 2007, $15 million; 2008, $22.1 million; 2009, $25.4 million; 2010, $48.7 million; 2011, $20.5 million; 2012, $37.4 million; 2013, $41.6 million

DCF invests TANF dollars into worthwhile programs that help prevent poverty – as TANF policy requires us to do. Current and future investment in poverty-prevention programs in no way impacts the amount of cash assistance that individuals receive. Anyone who qualifies for TANF and fills out the application and participates in the employment training and job-search requirements receives cash assistance. Children have not been kicked off cash-assistance programs. The reduction in the number of individuals enrolled in the TANF cash-assistance program is a reflection of individuals choosing not to work or meet the job-search requirements.

While some have argued that there are not enough jobs available, we and our partners at the Kansas Department of Commerce will gladly work with these individuals who are having trouble finding employment. The economy is improving, and there are jobs available.

We certainly know that not every job will allow a family to make ends meet. That’s why we have a wide range of assistance programs to get families through those tough times.

The state of Kansas wants families to succeed and find they can be self-sufficient. We will continue to do all we can to help individuals in the short term with temporary assistance, but we also want to ensure long-term success through employment and prevention.

Phyllis Gilmore is secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

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