A couple of weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced that it would begin allowing states to apply for waivers to current TANF rules so that they can “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.” LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently wrote a blog post in which she argued that the granting of these waivers, which has apparently annoyed some Republican members of Congress, will strengthen welfare reform. She believes the increased flexibility will permit states to not only design more effective strategies for helping recipients prepare for, find, and retain jobs, but also “measure their accomplishments in more meaningful ways than the current system allows.”
One of her arguments is that waivers will provide states with greater flexibility to align their TANF employment programs with other employment, training, and education initiatives:
The TANF work requirements are very narrowly defined and often are inconsistent with the requirements in other job training and employment programs. If HHS allows states some flexibility to increase the effectiveness of their TANF work programs and activities, states will be able to maximize coordination among TANF and other programs including the Workforce Investment Act, Adult Education, and Vocational Rehabilitation. This will help to streamline programs and make it easier for unemployed parents to be served by the program best suited to help them secure and retain employment and increase the effectiveness of the bigger employment and training system. (my emphasis)
It will be interesting to see whether any states use this opportunity to improve coordination between TANF and adult education services. It seems to me that this could also be a potential opportunity for adult education advocates and TANF advocates to work together to improve educational opportunities for TANF recipients.
UPDATE 7/30/12: Greg Kaufman, writing about the proposed waivers in his “This Week in Poverty” blog for The Nation, argues that these waivers represent modest reform only, and argues that what is needed is something more along the lines of Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s RISE Act:
Can you imagine the outcry if there were good, aggressive reforms offered by Democrats—the kind found in Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s RISE Act? Among the smart changes Moore calls for are: adjusting each state’s block grant for inflation so it’s no longer frozen at 1996 funding levels, unchanged for the past 16 years; allowing education and job training to count towards work requirements; providing childcare for all work-eligible parents; and prohibiting time limits of less than 60 months.
Now that would indeed be the end of welfare reform as we know it. Or at least the end of some of its most egregious failures—and the beginning of a system with the interests of poor people at its heart.