Public Assistance (TANF)

Safety and Sobriety Manual
Best Practices in Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse

January 2005

Special Settings:  Public Assistance (TANF)

Welfare Reform

In 1996 President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act which ushered in an era of welfare reform. The law ended the income entitlement program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC and replaced it with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF. The primary goals of welfare reform legislation were to promote work and marriage and to decrease welfare dependency and births to unmarried mothers. The legislation creating TANF shifted welfare policy from economic security to stressing work and self sufficiency. It establishes time limits and work requirements, and emphasizes personal responsibility.

Like most states, Illinois focused on moving families from welfare to work. The result was a dramatic decline in the TANF caseload. In July of 1994 there were 246,835 TANF cases compared to 38,234 in July of 2003 (Illinois Department of Human Services TANF Data). As caseloads have declined, a larger proportion of the caseload faces barriers to self-sufficiency. Persons who remain are more likely to confront barriers such as substance abuse, learning disabilities, domestic violence, and physical and mental health problems.

Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

There is a wide range of estimates of the prevalence of substance abuse and domestic violence among TANF families. Many studies lack common definitions resulting in a wide range of estimates

  • Analyses of the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse data indicate that the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse is higher among welfare clients than in the general population. Approximately 20 percent of the 1998 TANF caseload used illicit drugs, compared with 12.5 percent of those not receiving cash assistance; 4.5 percent of welfare clients were dependent on illicit drugs, compared with 2.1 percent of those not receiving cash assistance. Alcohol dependency among welfare clients was also slightly higher, but the difference was not statistically significant (Pollack et at., 2001).
  • It is estimated that 50 percent to 60 percent of TANF clients have experienced domestic violence over their lifetimes and 20 percent to 30 percent are recent or current victims of abuse (Tolman and Raphael, 2000). Victims of domestic violence are more likely to be long-term welfare recipients and are more likely to cycle on and off welfare (Lyon 2000).
  • In a study of Illinois TANF families, 13 percent reported severe physical domestic violence in the past year and 3 percent were found to be chemically dependent (Kirby, 2003).
  • The disparity between the estimates and actual reports may be attributed to several factors. It may reflect a woman's reluctance to acknowledge that she is living with a man who may or may not be the father of her children. She may be reluctant to disclose for fear that financial and food stamp benefits will be reduced. She may also fear that disclosure may trigger child welfare involvement.

Illinois TANF Program

The Illinois Department of Human Services implemented the state's TANF program in July of 1997. The program was based on federal law and policies developed during the state's earlier experiments with welfare reform. Since 1997, Illinois' TANF plan has been modified several times. Among the notable changes are the addition of exemptions to the TANF 60-month time limit and the adoption of the Family Violence Option. It is likely that the TANF program will change again with the passage of the federal TANF Reauthorization legislation. The Bush Administration is supporting legislation that increases employment requirements, imposes strict sanctions and provides substantial funds to promote healthy marriage.

Implications for TANF Families in Illinois

Work Requirements

Welfare reform places an emphasis on engaging TANF clients in work as quickly as possible.

  • A single parent who is able to work must work or participate in a work activity for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families are required to work 35 hours per week.
  • The hours spent in programs for substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health count toward meeting the work requirement.

Income Disregards

The Work Pays program disregards two thirds of earned income when determining benefit levels. For example, if a parent earns $300 per month the TANF grant is reduced by $100.

Personal Responsibility

TANF stresses personal responsibility.

  • Clients must cooperate in establishing paternity and obtaining child support. A woman may receive an exemption from establishing paternity or obtaining child support if doing so will place her or her children at risk of violence.
  • Clients must cooperate in work and training activities, cooperate in referral and treatment for substance abuse and follow through on their service plan or face sanctions.
  • Sanctions are imposed at three levels:
    1. At the first level, the cash benefit is reduced by 50%. Benefits are restored as soon as the client cooperates.
    2. At the second level, the cash benefit is reduced by 50% for three months. If by the fourth month the client has not cooperated, the entire cash benefit is stopped.
    3. At the third level, the entire cash benefit is stopped for three months. The client must cooperate for benefits to be restored.

Time Limits

The focus of TANF is on transitional services. Cash benefits are limited to a maximum of five years in a lifetime. Cash benefits received in other states or in nonconsecutive months count toward the 60-month time limit.

What stops the time limit?

The time limit ("stopped clock provision) stops for clients who:

  • Work at least 30 hours per week and still qualify for cash assistance (30 hours for single-parent families and 35 hours for two-parent families);
  • Are single-parents and attend a postsecondary education program full time and maintain a cumulative 2.5 grade point average;
  • Provide constant in-home care for a medically dependent child under 21 ;
  • Provide care for a disabled child or spouse; or
  • Are approved for a Domestic Violence Exclusion.

Exceptions to the 60-month limit

A family might be able to receive more than the 60 months of TANF benefits if the parent:

  • Has a pending SSI application and is determined disabled by IDHS; or is determined unable to work at least 30 hours per week due to a medical condition; or
  • Is in an intensive program that prevents working at least 30 hours per week (includes DCFS, domestic violence, homeless services, mental health, substance abuse, and vocational rehabilitation programs); or
  • Is in an approved education or training program that will be finished within 6 months after the end of the 60 months; or
  • Is approved to care for a related child under 18 or spouse due to their medical condition; or
  • Has a disabled child under 21 who is approved for a Home and Community-based Care waiver.

Domestic Violence Exclusion

The Domestic Violence Exclusion went into effect in Illinois on July I, 2002. It provides needed relief to domestic violence victims and their families as they struggle to break out of the cycle of violence. A client who qualifies for a Domestic Violence Exclusion is not required to participate in work and training activities and the TANF 60- month counter stops.

To qualify:

  • The client must experience difficulty participating in work and training activities for at least 30 hours a week due to domestic violence, or participation in work or training activities is unsafe.
  • The client must request to be excused from work and training activities because of a domestic violence problem (a written request is not required).
  • The client must give proof* of being a current or past victim of domestic violence.
  • The client's request must be approved by a team of staff and consultants (i.e., the multidisciplinary staffing that always includes the caseworker and a domestic violence expert).
  • A person does not have to be receiving services from a domestic violence service provider to qualify for the Domestic Violence Exclusion.

*  Proof may include a written statement from another person (e.g., relative, friend) who has knowledge of the circumstances that support the claim; a police, government agency, or court record; a statement or documentation from a domestic or sexual violence program or rape crisis organization; documentation from a professional (e.g., doctor, lawyer, clergy); or any other credible evidence, including physical evidence, that supports the claim. If approved, the initial waiver lasts only two months. The client's Responsibility and Services Plan, or RSP, is amended to reflect what the client is doing to deal with the domestic violence (e.g., counseling, legal action, medical services). After two months, the waiver may be continued for as long as necessary, but the client is obligated to undergo a reassessment of her situation once a month.

Need for Collaboration

Helping families struggling with poverty and issues of domestic violence and/or substance abuse requires the coordinated efforts of TANF, domestic violence and substance abuse treatment agencies.

  • The imposition of time limits on welfare receipt necessitates that service/treatment plans incorporate the goal of employment.
  • The reality of sanctions necessitates that TANF offices are informed of any circumstance that would keep a client from complying with a program requirement. Agencies need to communicate and work together to develop coordinated rather than conflicting service plans.
  • The complexity of multiple problems often requires joint intervention. TANF policy requiring cooperation with a substance abuse treatment plan may be used to motivate a client. Payment of supportive services such as child care and transportation are available to assist TANF clients with their service plan.