Wednesday, October 29, 2003
The five families Routt County is helping through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families no longer have to worry whether their assistance is going to come, at least for the next six months.
At the end of last month, the U.S. Senate voted to extend the federal program, which expired Sept. 30 after five years in existence. The extension gives Congress six months to decide how to change the program and reauthorize it for the next five years.
For the 20 to 25 families served by TANF in Routt County each year, the extension is good news, said Routt County Director of Human Services Bob White.
"The good news is the program continues," White said. "The concern is we're not quite sure of what the long-term face of revisions is going to amount to."
The county, along with human service agencies across the country, have been "sitting on pins and needles while Washington argued," he said.
Without the six-month extension, agencies would have needed to figure out how to support families through October and the rest of the year.
Each year, Routt County receives about $260,000 to address TANF-related issues. Families often are able to get off the program after a few months, he said.
The extension involves several changes to the previous program. Participants are required to work 32 hours a week, a middle ground between the 25 hours previously required and the 40 hours that some officials wanted.
The new rules also provide more opportunities to involve faith-based initiatives, to provide marriage incentives and to support abstinence education.
The program's four federal purposes guide how local organizations use the funds, White said. Wording in those purposes was changed slightly for the six-month extension.
For instance, the purpose to end dependence of needy parents on the government now includes the purpose of reducing poverty.
Although it's a subtle difference, it's an important one, White said.
"If they're living in poverty," White said, referring to people who just got off TANF, "it's still like our job isn't completely done. ... It's not just about saving the government benefits and cutting people off of benefits."
There are still many questions, such as how the program can best help people to transition to self-sufficiency without leaving families in the category of "working poor," White said. But a short-term solution is better than nothing.
"At least clients will receive their benefits here for the month of October," he said.
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