TANF Reauthorization Should Prevent and End Family Homelessness

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Federal Policy Brief | December 5, 2009

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The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant program provides states with grants to assist low-income families. One of the primary goals of the program is to “provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives” and to promote the economic self-sufficiency of families by promoting job preparation and employment. The presence of tens of thousands of homeless families with children each night is testament that the TANF system has not succeeded.

It does not have to be this way. The most effective approaches for reducing and ending family homelessness are an ideal fit with the stated goals and principles of the TANF program, calling for temporary cash assistance to resolve a crisis that has left the family unable to meet its basic needs and for the provision of social services to build the parents’ ability to work and achieve greater self-sufficiency. In fact, in a small number of leading communities, the TANF system has been a key part of efforts to end family homelessness. For example:

  • Alameda County, California is using both Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and TANF funds to help families resolve housing crises. Local TANF officials, homelessness planners, researchers, and officials are working together in a Community Learning Collaborative to better end family homelessness.
  • Westchester County, New York uses TANF resources to provide a rent supplement to help families who are homeless move back into housing, which has lead to a 57 percent decline in family homelessness.
  • Ohio created a Family Homelessness Prevention Pilot with TANF resources to provide limited financial assistance and intensive case management services to families at greatest risk of homelessness.

Recommendation

TANF reauthorization is an ideal opportunity to make TANF an effective tool that more communities can use to end family homelessness. TANF reauthorization should:

  • Improve program coverage of at-risk families by rewarding states for helping extremely low income families succeed and dismantling the Caseload Reduction Credit.
  • Provide additional resources to states that are implementing effective strategies to end family homelessness, including prevention and rapid re-housing.
  • Provide states’ with the flexibility and resources necessary to ensure that appropriate work supports and services are available to families that include a parent or a child with a disability.
  • Ensure TANF financial assistance is sufficient to allow families to care for children in their own homes and avoid homelessness.