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State Audit Spotlights Need for TANF Program Updates

PHOTO: One in five families receiving TANF assistance in Oregon gets only a monthly check, rather than the training or job placement help such families could have had before the state cut these services in the recession. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: One in five families receiving TANF assistance in Oregon gets only a monthly check, rather than the training or job placement help such families could have had before the state cut these services in the recession. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
April 18, 2014

SALEM, Ore. – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is designed to be short-term help for very low-income families with children.

And in Oregon, it could be a lot more effective, according to a new state audit of the program from the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

TANF combines a small monthly check to keep a family's basic bills paid, with job training and childcare assistance to get adults back to work.

In the budget crisis, the state chose to keep the checks coming, but drastically cut the other types of assistance – the parts that make the TANF program truly temporary, says Jessica Chanay, deputy director of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.

"Over the course of the recession, we cut the jobs side of it by more than half – really, really deep cuts,” Chanay says. “And so, if we're going to expand the program, then we need to add more funding. We have to make those investments."

Chanay says that's up to the Legislature, and notes that rebuilding TANF's effectiveness could be a long-term process. The audit includes a list of 21 helpful services for job seekers on TANF – only four of which are still available.

About 90,000 Oregonians receive TANF, and two-thirds of them are children.

The audit also found in recent years, the combination of more TANF recipients and fewer resources to offer them has overloaded the caseworkers trying to help people forge their action plans for self-sufficiency.

Chanay says that, too, was a consequence of the recession.

"It also meant that there was a hiring freeze, so caseworkers suddenly, you know, had 200 families that they're working with,” she explains. “And so, they have less time to spend with any one family, and they have less support services to offer them."

The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) plans to hire 162 additional caseworkers.

The audit says only one in five families is receiving anything other than a monthly check from TANF – and DHS warns if that doesn't change, there will be about 50 percent more families receiving TANF in 2017 than before the recession.


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR