County awaits Congress' TANF decision

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As the U.S. Legislature discusses reauthorizing the 1996 welfare reform, Routt County officials are paying close attention to how the national issue will play out close to home.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, passed to focus welfare on work more than on cash aid, expired Sept. 30 but then was reauthorized for six months. It will expire again today.

This fiscal year, Routt County has received about $280,000 for TANF-related needs.

The first priority for those funds is helping low-income individuals and families find and keep jobs, said Routt County Director of Human Services Bob White. In a typical year, there are between 20 and 30 families who need TANF funds for at least a few months, White said.

The extension approved last fall had several changes to regulations for families who use the funds, such as increasing the number of hours they are required to work and opportunities to involve faith-based organizations to promote marriage and abstinence.

Routt County's second priority for those funds is early childhood education and child care. The county is allowed to transfer up to 30 percent of TANF funds to child education and care, White said.

Quality child care and helping people keep good jobs are intertwined, White said.

"If you're going to be successful in getting parents of young children off of welfare ... a critical ingredient to that is child care," White said.

"Far and away, our major concern is that TANF reauthorization includes some increase (in) child-care funds."

The third priority for the funds is investing back into community resources through supporting the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, Steamboat Mental Health, the Discovery Learning Center and others.

"Since they're our third priority, if our TANF dollars were ever cut or our caseload increased, that would be the first funding to be reduced or eliminated," White said.

If Congress cannot come up with a welfare solution by the end of today, White said, counties and states would not have the federal dollars crucial to these programs.

"We'll all wake up on April Fool's Day without any TANF funds," he said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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