Dignity of Work Remains Central to Escaping Poverty

By Lynn Johnson, Assistant Secretary, ACF

This summer, the Council of Economic Advisors highlighted the power of work as it relates to America’s social safety net. The council’s July 2018 report marks an important moment in our thinking about welfare programs -- similar to when the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program started in 1996.

TANF emphasizes work and personal responsibility in reducing long-term dependence on government and helping those in need achieve economic security. The state welfare experiments that helped spark the creation of TANF and our experience administering the program over the past 22 years taught us a lot about the value of work requirements and promoting employment; but we still have more to learn.

Through our research efforts, technical assistance and policy proposals, we are learning about local successes. We are encouraging state TANF programs to renew their commitment to improving employment outcomes. This includes helping TANF recipients develop marketable skills, obtain jobs, maintain employment, and move up the labor force ladder.

ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation is currently studying strategies for job search assistance, career pathways and both subsidized and transitional employment approaches to learn and share information about promoting work among TANF recipients and other low-income populations. The Office of Family Assistance empowers state TANF agencies to share successes and failures and to dive deeper into career pathways strategies, coaching styles of case management and other employment-related topics. The FY 2019 president’s budget proposal highlighted ways to strengthen TANF work requirements and included a request to create a minimum spending floor to ensure states sufficiently invest in work activities and supports. To better help low-income families, states must invest greater effort and resources for those families with barriers to employment so they can attain self-sufficiency.

At ACF, it’s not just the TANF program where we focus on the need for employment. In recent years, programs from child support to Head Start to healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood initiatives have placed greater emphasis on helping low-income parents find and keep jobs to support their families.

ACF continues to demonstrate the dignity of work is central to our vision of children, youth, families, individuals and communities who are resilient, safe, healthy and economically secure.

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