Friday, November 8, 2019

Report: Shelby County Should Be Focus of TANF Fund Surplus

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2019 at 10:19 AM

click to enlarge BEACON CENTER OF TENESSEE
  • Beacon Center of Tenessee
click to enlarge Governor Lee
  • Governor Lee
Shelby County should be the spending focus for the state’s massive $571 million surplus of unused federal funds aimed to help low-income families, according to the organization that discovered the surplus.

Two weeks ago, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Nashville-based, free-market think tank issued a report called “Poverty to Prosperity: Reforming Tennessee’s Public Assistance Programs.” The report found that Tennessee spends only a fraction of the federal funds it gets to fund Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programs here.

One of those programs in Tennessee, called Families First, gives temporary financial assistance to eligible families with children in the form of a cash benefit, as well as employment and job search opportunities, according to the Beacon report. The TANF funding also helps fund TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Shelby County represents the largest caseload size of TANF (23.3 percent), TennCare (17 percent), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at 22 percent, according to Beacon.

”Tennessee should invest in pilot projects focused on poverty in Shelby County and opportunities to provide more supportive wrap around services for working age adults that need childcare, transportation, education, and employment training services,” reads the report. “Successfully partnering with families in Shelby County to tip the scale in their favor to move from poverty to prosperity would have the single greatest economic impact for the state’s systems of support.”
In a letter Wednesday, Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen demanded answers from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Wednesday on the state’s $571 million surplus of federal funds for needy families. 

Cohen said Tennessee only spent $20 million of its $190 million federal allocation last year, leaving $170 million unspent on TANF programs last year. In all, the unused TANF funds totaled more than $732 million, according to Beacon. Cohen said his $571 million figure included only funds that weren’t yet obligated.
click to enlarge cohen.jpg

Initially, Lee adminstration officials defended the surplus, saying they’d need the extra funds for another economic downturn. After weeks of backlash over the surplus discovery, Lee said in budget hearings Monday that his office is working on a plan use more of the funding.

For starters, Lee said the Tennessee Department of Humans Services, which administers the TANF funds, will spend about an additional $70 million this year to nonprofit organizations.

But the assurance was apparently not enough for Cohen.

“When 15.3 percent of Tennesseans are living in poverty, it is inexcusable for the state to withhold millions of federal dollars allocated to help this exact population,” Cohen said in a statement. “At best, this has resulted in Tennessee’s gross mismanagement of federal dollars; at worst, Tennessee has deliberately chosen not to assist needy families.”

Beacon’s report concluded that Tennessee should take the additional TANF funding and for the Families First program, “focus on creating innovative transition services that reward working parents for each move up the economic ladder toward stability and prosperity like transportation and childcare supplements for families who are working.”

As for TennCare, Beacon said Tennessee should use some additional TANF funding to ”take a deep dive into its caseload” and ”promote more access to care for its enrollees.”

For both programs and SNAP, Beacon suggested “Shelby County should be the main area of focus.”
click to enlarge BEACON CENTER OF TENESSEE
  • Beacon Center of Tenessee
click to enlarge BEACON CENTER OF TENESSEE
  • Beacon Center of Tenessee
click to enlarge BEACON CENTER OF TENESSEE
  • Beacon Center of Tenessee
click to enlarge BEACON CENTER OF TENESSEE
  • Beacon Center of Tenessee

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