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OFA publishes guidance on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for the TANF program

HHS’ Office of Family Assistance (OFA) within the Administration for Children (ACF) today issued a Program Instruction (PI) on how states and tribes may use TANF to assist needy families experiencing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 emergency. The guidance also outlines the flexibilities within TANF that enable states and tribes to ease requirements on TANF applicants or recipients. The PI emphasizes that the top priority is the health and safety of all those operating the TANF program and receiving its services. 

Given the latest news on the disease, ACF anticipates an increased need in many states for basic assistance and other financial benefits and the PI includes questions and answers on how states and tribal TANF programs might respond to these needs. The guidance notes that many states and tribes have significant unobligated TANF dollars saved as “rainy day” funds to use in situations such as the current emergency.

The PI identifies the following strategies, among others:

  • Providing non-recurrent, short-term benefits to families to make up for lost wages and help them meet basic needs;
  • Offering online or telephonic applications to minimize face-to-face contact;
  • Granting good cause exemptions from work requirements for TANF participants who cannot go to work or training activities because, for example, they are ill, caring for a child whose school or day care is closed due to the pandemic, or because the work or training site is closed;
  • Providing online approaches for participants to engage in work activities virtually, such as online trainings and work readiness;
  • Increasing cash benefit levels for TANF cash assistance recipients who have reduced income or increased needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • Providing case management by phone or other virtual/electronic communication platforms.

The guidance states that while ACF does not have authority to waive the work participation rate that states must meet, it does have authority to grant relief from resulting penalties in the face of natural disasters and other calamities.  ACF will exercise this authority to the maximum extent possible during this current COVID-19 emergency. “We want TANF agencies to put the health and well-being of families and their community first, and not worry about meeting the work rates,” said OFA Director Clarence H. Carter.

Link to the TANF-ACF-PI-2020-01 (https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-acf-pi-2020-01) - Questions and answers about TANF and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic