In the 2010-2014 Poverty in Ohio report, Scioto County shows one of the highest incidents in the state at 24.5 percent, nearly a full quarter of the population. Now, following Ohio Governor John Kasich’s request for permission to implement the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program in a more flexible and comprehensive manner, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Angus King (I-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to introduce a bipartisan bill that Brown says would lift Americans out of poverty by reauthorizing and reforming TANF to reflect changes in the American economy and the challenges facing poor families seeking to work their way up the economic ladder.
Brown said the Enhancing and Modernizing Pathways to Opportunity Through Work, Education, and Responsibility (EMPOWER) Act would modernize TANF to provide more targeted support for low-income families and their children, connect more adults to the education and job training that can lift them out of poverty, and encourage states to focus on delivering results for low-income families and children.
“The current TANF program has failed to adequately address the issues that millions of Americans are facing in this country and we must do more to help families in need,” Brown said. “This legislation will give the state of Ohio the flexibility it needs to help more Ohio families make ends meet and secure good-paying jobs.”
In October, Brown led Democratic members of the Ohio congressional delegation in a letter requesting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant a waiver submitted by Governor John Kasich exempting the State of Ohio from certain federal TANF rules that can prevent recipients from finding meaningful long-term employment. The EMPOWER Act would provide additional flexibility for states to effectively help families living in poverty.
Brown said when TANF was enacted, it served 68 of every 100 families in poverty. Today, it only helps 23 of every 100 families. The EMPOWER Act would reform and redesign the TANF program to hold states accountable for focusing on families that need assistance the most, engaging TANF beneficiaries, and transitioning them to long-term independence.
Specifically, the legislation would:
- Refocus TANF’s purposes by adding the goals of reducing deep child poverty and increasing employment entry, retention, and advancement to the program’s purposes.
- Remove TANF’s marriage penalty by eliminating the program’s disincentives to serve two-parent families, which discourage marriage and the formation of two-parent households.
- Increase work participation of TANF recipients by restricting the use of the caseload reduction credit and limiting work supplement payments to those payments that promote transitions to work.
- Streamline work participation activities by eliminating convoluted work activity definitions, reducing states’ administrative burden, expanding the opportunity to participate in education and job training, and improving access to job preparation activities.
- Target TANF funds by asking states to focus on families most in need and increasing the percentage of funds that are devoted to the program’s core purposes.
- Track and report results by asking states to set annual goals related to improving job placement among former TANF recipients as well as success in serving eligible low-income children and their families.