New APHSA-NSC Paper Encourages Congress to Shift TANF to Outcomes-Based Model

By Kermit Kaleba, June 25, 2019

This week, the American Public Human Services Association and National Skills Coalition released a joint paper calling on Congress to shift the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs from the current process-based state accountability model to an outcomes-based model. Building on proposals included in bipartisan bills introduced in both the House and Senate last year, “Measuring what Matters” encourages Congress to consider adopting performance measures consistent with the common performance measures under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to strengthen connections between TANF and other workforce programs.

Since TANF was first authorized in 1998, the primary performance measure for states is the “work participation rate,” which requires states to ensure that 50 percent of TANF-receiving families with a work-eligible adult – and 90 percent of families with two work-eligible adults – be engaged in a minimum number of hours of work or other qualifying activities on a monthly basis. The work participation rate as currently structured provides limited incentives for states to invest resources in the kinds of education and training that can help TANF participants and other low-income workers succeed in today’s economy, and also creates significant administrative burdens for state and local program administrators. The law further places restrictions on the percentage of individuals engaged in education training who may count towards state work participation rates – a limitation starkly at odds with the growing skill demands of today’s labor market.

Shifting TANF to an outcomes-based accountability system – where states are rewarded based on how successfully they are assisting TANF participants in getting the skills and credentials necessary to compete in today’s labor market – would significantly improve TANF’s ability to realize its goal of promoting work.

In the paper, APHSA and NSC argue for reorienting the program to align with the WIOA common performance measures, including measures around employment, earnings, and credential attainment. By adopting these measures – which have also been adopted in some form across a range of other federal workforce, education, and human services programs – Congress could send a strong signal about the importance of investing in skills for today’s workers while supporting greater alignment between critical workforce and human services systems.

The paper outlines some key questions for lawmakers as they consider shifting to an outcomes-based model, including questions of which TANF participants should be included in reporting under such a system, and how states might negotiate performance targets. The paper also highlights some practical considerations for implementation of an outcomes-based system, including how to facilitate data sharing between state agencies and the need for a transition period to allow states to adjust their current service models in order to take advantage of new education and training opportunities for participants.

TANF is currently authorized through the end of June. Congress is expected to approve a short-term extension of TANF through September 30, but the prospects for a more comprehensive overhaul this year are uncertain. National Skills Coalition strongly supports efforts to modernize TANF to better reflect the needs of TANF participants in today’s economy, and we hope to work with lawmakers to advance bipartisan reforms to this critical component of our nation’s antipoverty strategy.