Understanding the Intersection Between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services, 2014-2018

Project Overview

In the fall of 2014, ACF launched a descriptive study to document the similarities and differences between Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance and the Refugee Cash Assistance program. ACF’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) administers a variety of social service programs intended to connect newly resettled refugees with critical resources, help them become economically self-sufficient, and help them integrate into American society. ORR’s Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program, which provides both financial support and social services to newly resettled refugees, is similar to TANF in that both are cash assistance programs that provide services aimed at promoting self-sufficiency; however the content, mode of delivery and rules surrounding these services vary significantly by state and locality.

There is little documented information on the extent to which refugees access benefits and services through TANF and RCA, differences in refugee characteristics between the two programs, how outcomes compare for refugees served under these two programs, whether integration of these programs holds promise for refugee self-sufficiency, and whether data is available to answer these questions. The Understanding the Intersection Between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services study, which is being conducted by Abt Associates and MEF Associates, aims to better understand the population of refugees served by TANF and RCA and the major differences in programmatic services associated with these two programs.

The overall framework of the study includes the following components:

  • Consultation with experts and federal program staff. The study will seek input from a panel of experts made up of researchers, policymakers, and program operators with expertise in refugee policy, social service delivery systems, and TANF, RCA, and employment and training programs targeted for newly arrived populations.
  • Online Survey of State Refugee Coordinators. To systematically document the diversity of state policies and practices across the country, and inform site selection, the research team conducted a short online survey of state refugee coordinators. A special topics paper reporting aggregate findings from this survey was published in fall 2017.
  • Site visits to eight communities serving refugees. The team completed site visits to eight communities in late 2016, interviewing managers and front-line staff of local public assistance agencies, local resettlement agencies, and community based organizations. They also conducted focus groups with program participants in each site. The following counties participated in the site visits:
  • Arapahoe County, Colorado
  • Cook County, Illinois
  • Fairfax County, Virginia
  • Franklin County, Ohio
  • Jefferson County, Kentucky
  • King County, Washington
  • Macomb and Oakland Counties, Michigan
  • Montgomery County, Maryland

Through these activities, the study will document how states and localities have coordinated TANF and RCA programs to deliver social services to refugees and whether these approaches hold promise for long-term job stability and economic self-sufficiency among refugees. This work will provide a deeper understanding of current social service delivery systems serving refugees and will help to identify gaps in existing knowledge and data around these systems.

Project deliverables include a brief presenting findings from the Survey of State Refugee Coordinators was published in late 2017, a second brief discussing promising strategies for state TANF agencies serving refugees, and a final report summarizing the study findings.

The point of contact is Tiffany McCormack.

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