Follow the tax dollars: What's TANF?

Follow the tax dollars: What's TANF?
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
Steven Guntharp-Assistant Director for the Department of Workforce Services (Source: KAIT)
Steven Guntharp-Assistant Director for the Department of Workforce Services (Source: KAIT)

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) - Tax dollars are spent on a number of things, and the public may not know exactly where their money goes.

Those bucks go toward building new roads and parks.

They are used for a lot of things, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

When some Region 8 resident were asked if they knew of TANF, most did not.

"No," Matthew Wilson said when asked.

"TANF funding, no ma'am, I don't believe I have," said Chase Mooney.

"I think I've heard of it, but I can't tell you what it is," Britney Revel said.

According to the Department of Workforce Services, Arkansas gets $56.7 million each year in TANF block grant funding from the federal government.

In 2016, the state also received around $5.5 million in TANF Contingency Funding.

DWS said contingency funding is a pot of money states can apply for. Being chosen for the additional funding is based on unemployment rates and use of food stamps in the state.

The department also receives more than $90 million for the state's maintenance of effort, also referred to as MOE.

MOE is a requirement that a state must spend a specific amount of state funds each year for benefits and services to needy families.

Those three forms of funding equal more than $150 million.

In 2015, the state's administration changed to a different governor and different Workforce Services Director.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson hired Daryl Bassett as the director of DWS that year.

In an interview with Talk Business and Politics, Bassett said Hutchinson hired him to help with job growth.

"When the governor asked me to come over to DWS, one of the things he told me was that he was going to put an emphasis on workforce development," Bassett said in the interview. "We need to get out in front of the issues, and we are going to be asking a whole lot of questions."

Since the change in administration, use of federal dollars has also changed to help in other areas of job growth.

Steven Guntharp, assistant director at DWS, said TANF funding is under the DWS with that goal in mind.

"We're getting individuals prepared to get a job," Guntharp said.

By doing so, the department works to help in all aspects associated with getting unemployment benefits and a job.

"Helping them move off government assistance," Guntharp said. "Helping them provide for their families."

There are guidelines given to states for receiving those federal funds.

"We are given a directive by the federal government of what we should do," Guntharp said.

According to the DWS website, the four directives are to provide assistance to needy families, so children are cared for; end dependency of needy parents on the government by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and encourage formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

"We don't have a specific program to date where it focuses on marriages, but we do partner with agencies, organizations that do focus on," Guntharp said.

One of those organizations is the Girls and Boys Club.

"They help TANF families with different issues," Guntharp said.

Another way DWS helps is by giving more than $90 million in MOE each year to the Arkansas Better Chances Program.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, $93 million was spent on pregnancy prevention and formation of two-parent families in 2014.

DWS said that is simply the broad classification the money goes under.

States differ by how they classify their MOE funding and how they spend it.

Guntharp, along with another DWS official, said this classification is certified and legal and simply a way of meeting the requirements to claim MOE.

He added Arkansas chooses to allocate the money to ABC which helps provide educational outreach to low-income parents and their children.

Beyond MOE, TANF funding is used for other directives.

"Providing childcare, assistance for childcare, providing assistance for transportation," Guntharp said.

DWS said 80% of TANF funding is used to help parents keep their jobs.

"If you have small children and you don't have a vehicle to get to a job maybe ten miles from your home, that could become a huge obstacle," Guntharp said.

Something parents in Region 8 said they understand.

"I'm sure almost every parent struggles," a Region 8 resident said.

"It's definitely a real issue," Britney Revel said. "I have four children and I run a business, so yes, I know the struggle of transportation to and from."

A portion of the 80% also includes a program called Career Pathways.

"Help them get the skills they need through the 2-year schools to help them get a career," Guntharp said.

Other categories include Post-Employment Retention and Supportive Services, Transitional Employment and Supportive Services, and Child Welfare Emergency Assessments.

Child welfare was explained in a statement Guntharp provided to Region 8 News.

It said $8.8 million in TANF funds are transferred to the Arkansas Department of Human Services each year for child welfare.

That agency uses those funds to serve children in needy families who are at risk of abuse or neglect, and provide cash assistance to needy relatives or caregivers who are caring for children in a safe place.

Guntharp said beyond all the programs employment is the goal, and it seems to be working.

In the last 10 years, Guntharp said the number of families receiving TANF assistance has decreased.

"One we can attribute that to our record low unemployment, and also the governor bringing in, working hard, and bringing in new jobs," Guntharp said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate has dropped.

In January 2011, Arkansas' unemployment rate was 8.4%.

In September 2016, unemployment was at a record 4.0%.

"Other states are modeling after our programs," Guntharp said. "The money is being well spent."

Guntharp said the state recognizes some try to take advantage of the help, and DWS works to fight fraud.

"Vast majority of them are individuals who need help," Guntharp said.

After learning more about TANF, most Region 8 residents said TANF sounds like a good thing.

"It sounds like it's a need that needs to be taken care of or met," Wilson said.

"Anything that can get people working, that's a program I can support," a Region 8 woman said.

"Absolutely, something that will take over and help boost our economy, get jobs out here for people who don't feel like they can be hired anywhere," Mooney said.

Revel said it's nice to know where just a portion of her tax dollars is going.

"It would be nice to know where all of our tax dollars are going," Revel said.

When compared to other states, DWS said Arkansas only gets 0.3% of the total $16.5 billion federal TANF budget.

In 2014, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found Arkansas got $42 million of the block grant.

Missouri received $230 million, and Tennessee got $98 million.

For a broader look at where tax dollars are spent visit the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as well as Arkansas' Department of Finance and Administration's websites.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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