Maximize Self Sufficiency Through Work and Additional Constructive Activities

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Maximize Self Sufficiency Through Work and Additional Constructive Activities

Press release

By: White House Press Secretary

Date: February 2002

Source: The White House. "Maximize Self-Sufficiency Through Work and Additional Constructive Activities." February 2002. <> (accessed May 17, 2006).

About the Author: The job of the White House Press Secretary is a challenging and delicate one. This person is a member of the President's executive staff, and ranks just below cabinet secretaries in importance. The press secretary must be extremely discrete, and strives to meet the needs of the media for data concerning matters of national and global interest, while maintaining the informational boundaries required by the president and senior administration staff. It is the job of the White House Press Secretary to manage press briefings and to set the tone for many presidential question-and-answer sessions with the media. Briefings can occur as frequently as several times daily and are generally broadcast on television. There are also frequent "gaggles" with the press, which involve only the press secretary and the media, and are generally not broadcast live.


In 1996, the concept of public assistance, or welfare, in the United States changed dramatically with the shift toward work and away from the concept of monthly support stipends. The legislation that created this welfare-to-work policy was entitled the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104–93), abbreviated as PRWORA. Among its main purposes were to mandate the institution of time limits for public assistance for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients, to strongly encourage people to train for meaningful employment, to use gainful employment as a means of transitioning individuals from public assistance to independence, and to place time limits on access to public assistance funds. Overall, the goal was to require that individuals take personal responsibility for acquiring independent means of support, moving away from reliance on public assistance. There is no implication in this legislation that people will be able to earn salaries sufficient to move them above the poverty level and create complete financial and material independence from government and public assistance programs.

Earlier welfare reform legislation—the Family Support Act and its attendant Job Opportunity and Basic Skills Training Program (the acronym for which was JOBS)—was enacted in 1988. This legislation was deemed by many in the federal government to be too lenient, in that it imposed no maximum time limits for receipt of assistance, and did not mandate participation in job-seeking and job-training activities in many states across the country. It created a number of novel initiatives, such as job development, assistance with job seeking, on the job training, and a system by which low income workers could be given a financial supplement in order to help make ends meet—but failed to impose time limits, to mandate working toward independence, or even to require that recipients pursue employment.

As it is currently constructed, the TANF program imposes significant limits on benefits, in that families can access it as a source of financial assistance for periods not to exceed two years at a time, with a lifetime cap of five years of TANF funding per household. The difficulty with those arbitrary time limits, according to sociological theory, is that people make decisions about major life changes based on a complex system of needs, personal and material resources, ability to fulfill specific goals, and the like. Not all people who receive public assistance are fully or equally employable within two years, or will be able to manage without a public safety net, within the specified time frames.

According to data published in 2000 by the U.S. House of Representatives, the previous welfare programs were criticized for providing long-term support to single mothers living below the poverty level, as they felt that this encouraged the dissolution of traditional models of the nuclear family and encouraged single mothers to have multiple children and to refrain from working outside the home. Among the non-employment related initiatives of the current TANF program is encouraging married, two-parent families, through the Administration for Children and Families' Healthy Marriage Mission.



Since welfare reform was enacted in 1996, the number of dependent families has been cut in half, and more families than ever are working. Yet evidence suggests that almost 1 million of the 1.6 million adults presently on TANF are not engaged in any activity leading toward self-sufficiency. These families cannot be left behind. The heart of welfare reform is encouraging work and requiring all welfare recipients to do everything they can to end their dependency on welfare and gain a secure foothold in the workforce.

The Administration proposal strengthens work rules to ensure that all welfare families are fully engaged in work and other meaningful activities that will lead to self-sufficiency. Along with new requirements for individuals, states are expected to closely monitor the participation and progress of all TANF families. All parents are to be fully and constructively engaged. States will be required to make certain that, over time, the percentage of TANF recipients engaged in work and additional productive activities continues to grow.

At the same time, the Administration proposal gives states greater flexibility to define activities that will lead toward self-sufficiency and that are consistent with the purposes of TANF. Beyond the hours that parents must be engaged directly in work, states have the flexibility to implement education and training programs to help workers advance in their jobs. Furthermore, states will be able to count individuals who are in treatment for substance abuse or undergoing rehabilitation related to work abilities, toward their participation requirement for a limited period of time.


Require Welfare Agencies to Engage All Families.

The Administration proposes the creation of a new universal engagement requirement. States must engage all families in work and other constructive activities leading to self-sufficiency. TANF agencies will be required to ensure that:

  • Within 60 days of opening an ongoing TANF case, each family has an individualized plan for pursuing their maximum degree of self sufficiency;
  • All families are participating in constructive activities in accordance with their plan, or in the process of being assessed or assigned to an activity;
  • Each family's participation in assigned activities is monitored; and
  • Each family's progress toward self sufficiency is monitored and regularly reviewed.

States will have full discretion to define and design appropriate activities, subject to the work requirement outlined below, as well as to develop methods for monitoring and review. The provision in current law related to individual responsibility plans will be eliminated, as will the state-plan requirement that families must begin work no later than two years after coming on assistance.

Increase Minimum Participation Rate Requirements.

The Administration proposes that in FY 2003, 50 percent of TANF families with one or more adults must be participating in a combination of work and other activities that lead to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. The percentage will increase annually by 5 percentage points until it reaches 70 percent in 2007. States will be allowed to count families that have left welfare due to employment as part of their participation rate for up to three months. In contrast, under TANF, the required percentage of families engaged in work-related activities began at 25 percent (in 1997) and rose over time to 50 percent in 2002.

Require Families to Participate 40 Hours a Week.

This proposal requires that families be involved in constructive activities averaging 40 hours per week in order to count toward the required participation rate. States will have discretion to define approved activities, which must help achieve a TANF purpose. Similar to current law, states will be able, at their option, to exclude parents with children under 12 months of age from the participation rate calculation. However, states must still require such parents to participate at some level.

TANF requires single and two-parent families to be engaged in work-related activities for 30 and 35 hours a week, respectively. The Administration believes that these families should be engaged in a full workweek of activities. States will continue to have flexibility in establishing sanctioning policies, except that states must, as in current law, continue assistance for single, custodial parents who have a child under age 6 but who cannot obtain childcare.

Increase Work Requirements.

This proposal requires that families counted toward participation must also average at least 24 hours per week in work, including:

  • unsubsidized employment;
  • subsidized private sector employment;
  • subsidized public sector employment;
  • on-the-job-training;
  • supervised work experience; and
  • supervised community service.

This 24-hour work requirement is part of the 40-hour full participation requirement. TANF payments to families participating in supervised work experience or supervised community service are not considered compensation for work performed. Thus, these payments do not entitle an individual to a salary or to benefits provided under any other provision of law.

Give Work Credit to Families Engaged in Short-Term Substance Abuse Treatment, Rehabilitation, and Work-Related Training.

This proposal allows states to count certain activities as meeting the work requirement for limited periods of time. Individuals participating in substance abuse treatment, rehabilitative services designed to maximize self sufficiency through work, and work-related training enabling the recipient to work, can be deemed to have met the three days a week work requirement. This exception would be available for no more than three consecutive months within any 24 month period.

Improve Calculation of Participation.

States will be allowed to count only families that meet both the 24-hour work requirement and the 40-hour full participation requirement toward their participation rate. States will be able to obtain pro-rata credit for families engaged in appropriate activities less than full time as long as they meet their 24-hour direct work requirement. States will have the option of not counting cases for the purpose of determining participation rates for the first month after a case is opened.

Eliminate Separate Two-Parent Family Participation Rates.

The Administration's proposal will end the separate participation rate for two-parent families; the same participation rate will apply to both single-and two-parent families. This policy removes a disincentive to equitable treatment of two-parent families. Under current law, two-parent families have a far more rigorous work participation rate requirement than do single-parent families (90 percent compared to 50 percent).

Phase Out the Caseload Reduction Credit.

The Administration's proposal will phase out the current credit for caseload reduction because it reduces states' minimum required work participation rates. Currently, states receive credit toward meeting participation rates for case-load declines since 1995. With national caseloads declining by more than half, many states effectively have no work participation standards. In FY 2003 the full caseload reduction credit will apply as under current law; in FY 2004 the credit will be halved; beginning in FY 2005, the credit will be eliminated. During this phase-out period the credit will be based on reductions since 1995, as in current law.

Conform Requirements for Teenage Parents.

The Administration proposal will conform current law provisions regarding teenage parents who are heads of household. Teen parents who maintain satisfactory school attendance will satisfy both the 24 hours of direct work and the 40 hours of full participation requirements. Teen parents who are not satisfactorily attending school will have to meet the work and full participation standards in order to be counted toward a state's participation rate.

Provide Technical Assistance for Tribes.

The Administration proposes to provide technical assistance to Indian tribes to identify and disseminate promising program models and other research information. This approach will help tribes design and implement more effective TANF programs and family formation activities in tribal lands.

Discontinue Outdated State Program Waivers.

The Administration proposes to discontinue the few remaining state welfare reform waivers granted prior to the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Flexibility under current law allows states to accomplish all the purposes of TANF without waivers. Furthermore, the requirements of TANF no longer represent an experiment. Abolishing the remaining waivers will put all states on an equal footing. Broad new state waiver authority for integrating programs is proposed in a separate section of this document.

Conform State Penalty Provision to New Requirement.

The penalty structure under current law for states failing to meet work participation rates will now apply when a state fails to meet either or both the universal engagement or full participation rate requirements. Penalties will still be limited to a combined maximum of five percent of a state's TANF grant for a fiscal year.

Retain Five-Year Time Limits and Continue Allowing 20 Percent to be Exempted.

The Administration's proposal will retain current law provisions with respect to time limits. These provisions restrict families to 60 cumulative months of Federally-funded assistance (or less at state option). States may exempt up to 20 percent of their caseload from the time limit without penalty. These provisions make it clear that TANF assistance is temporary. At the same time, the policy recognizes that certain hardship cases require more time to achieve self-sufficiency.


Among the criticisms leveled at the current TANF and time-limited public assistance policies is that they do not consider individual differences in job skills, employability, and ability to transition to full-time work and achievement of economic sufficiency within the allotted timeframes. Another is that the system does not consider whether the amount of income available to be earned by many TANF recipients upon transition from public assistance is sufficient to meet basic needs, to provide for childcare, or even to acquire the job skills and training that might permit them to achieve a higher degree of employability, or to command better salaries.

Those in support of the revised public assistance programs point out the dramatic reduction in the number of people on the rolls for TANF at any given time today when contrasted with data from a decade ago. However, that data must also be examined in terms of the number of people living above and below the poverty level.

Information published by the federal government suggests that between fifty and sixty-five percent of those who leave TANF have jobs at the time or are soon able to obtain gainful employment, and that those rates hold steady for at least a year following departure from public assistance. Although outcome-based research suggests that the wages earned by those who are employed after receiving public assistance continue to gradually rise, many still live below their state's poverty level. A study that was published by the Urban Institute in 2001 indicated that more than forty percent of former TANF recipients still lived in poverty despite being employed, when the actual cash value of food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and all required payroll deductions (to include local, state, and federal taxes) were subtracted from earned income. Another widely reported conclusion of the welfare-to-work research has been that those who had few job skills and unstable work histories before receiving public assistance are unlikely to improve significantly in those areas as a result of receiving financial help. Poorly educated (those with less than a completed high school education) or poorly skilled individuals are unlikely to advance steadily in pay, even when they are able to maintain steady employment. As the job market continues to become more technologically demanding, more and more jobs require significant post-secondary, vocational, or technical training. Government data suggest that the preponderance of those who receive TANF and are poorly educated or skilled are not readily employable in the current job market. In fact, among those who were in that category, nearly one-third were earning less money five years after leaving public assistance than they did immediately after they left the rolls. Overall, among single women who were poorly educated and lacking in essential skills for the present job market, more than forty percent still lived in poverty five years after leaving public assistance.

Data comparing those who left AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and those who left TANF is highly suggestive that those who left public assistance voluntarily (from the AFDC population) tended to do so after completion of work-related training, acquisition of advanced education, or changes in life circumstances that made it possible to return to work. Those who were required to leave the TANF rolls often did so without having completed any education or training that would increase employability, so they were significantly less likely to improve their circumstances. Overall, the published research data indicate that while TANF is quite successful at moving people away from public assistance within the specified time limits, it is considerably less effective in helping them to rise above the poverty level, or to acquire the skills and abilities that might improve their chances of economic advancement.



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Web sites

Administration for Children and Families. "ACF Healthy Marriage Mission." < marriage/about/mission.html> (accessed May 17, 2006).

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Maximize Self Sufficiency Through Work and Additional Constructive Activities

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