Understanding the Intersection Between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services: Findings from a Survey of State Refugee Coordinators

October 12, 2017
Topics:
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Projects:
Understanding the Intersection Between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services, 2014-2018 | Learn more about this project
Types:
Reports
Understanding the Intersection Between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services: Findings from a Survey of State Refugee Coordinators
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  • File Size 6mb
  • Pages 12
  • Published 2017

Introduction

States exercise broad flexibility to structure and implement federally funded refugee cash assistance programs and accompanying services to help move refugees toward employment and self-sufficiency. Each state (except Wyoming, which has no refugee program) has a State Refugee Coordinator (SRC) who is responsible for overseeing the design, implementation, and coordination of refugee services in each state.

This brief summarizes findings from a 2016 survey of SRCs. It describes the structure of programs that deliver cash assistance and employment services to refugees, the challenges refugees experience during the resettlement process, and innovative strategies states have implemented to improve service provision and coordination among refugee service providers.

The survey was conducted as part of the Understanding the Intersection between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance Services study, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study’s main purpose is to learn how state and local systems serve refugees through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) programs, how these programs interact, and how they might foster positive employment outcomes and refugee self-sufficiency. The survey findings were used to identify noteworthy program structures and practices practices to further explore as part of fieldwork conducted under this study.

Research Questions

  1. 1 What do we know about how different states and localities administer benefits and services for refugees through TANF, RCA, and other means-tested benefits?
  2. 2 To what extent, and in what ways, are states integrating TANF, RCA, and associated services to better serve the diverse needs of the refugees?
  3. 3 Do certain approaches or services seem most promising in assisting refugees in achieving economic self-sufficiency and obtaining stable employment in the United States?

Purpose

This brief summarizes findings from a 2016 survey of SRCs. It describes the structure of programs that deliver cash assistance and employment services to refugees, the challenges refugees experience during the resettlement process, and innovative strategies states have implemented to improve service provision and coordination among refugee service providers.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • The majority of SRCs, whose offices coordinate services for refugees across multiple agencies in each state, report formal relationships with resettlement agencies and state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) agencies to deliver core refugee services.
  • Resettlement agencies are more likely to conduct Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program eligibility determination and enrollment on-site than TANF eligibility determination and enrollment.
  • Both TANF- and RCA-receiving refugees can access employment and associated services, including job readiness workshops, transportation assistance, and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
  • Newly arrived refugees experience several common challenges, regardless of their source of cash assistance. These include lack of affordable housing and culturally appropriate mental health services.
  • The majority of SRCs (35) report that refugees applying for TANF experience challenges, while a smaller share of SRCs (11) report similar challenges for refugees applying for RCA. These challenges include difficulty communicating with agency staff and difficulty completing required paperwork because of language or literacy barriers.

Methods

The online survey was administered between January and February 2016 to State Refugee Coordinators in 49 of the 50 states (Wyoming does not have a refugee program) plus the District of Columbia and California’s San Diego County (which operates a Wilson-Fish program separate from the rest of the state). Of the 51 SRCs sent a survey, 49 completed it (a response rate of 96 percent). SRCs in Alabama and Texas did not respond.

All respondents were asked to think generally across communities in their state where refugees are resettled. Information presented in this brief comes from survey responses from SRCs and reflects their perspectives. The survey asked SRCs to provide responses to the best of their knowledge. To the extent that survey questions may have focused on topics outside the purview of some SRCs, the findings may not necessarily reflect actual state policies.

Respondents self-reported they had worked on issues related to refugees for nearly 14 years, on average. They reported working in their current position for an average of seven years and at the current agency for 15 years.

Citation

Boland, Bethany and Angela Gaffney (2017). Understanding the Intersection between TANF and Refugee Cash Assistance: Findings from a Survey of State Refugee Coordinators, OPRE Report #2017-75, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

Refugee
In this brief, it refers to all populations eligible for refugee services, including refugees, asylees, Cuban-Haitian entrants, and Special Immigrant Visa holders.
Resettlement agencies
In this brief, it refers to the local affiliates of the nine national resettlement agencies.
Last Reviewed: October 10, 2017