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Analysis of New Interim Final TANF Rules


On June 29, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued regulations regarding the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  These regulations define the activities that are countable toward the work participation rate requirements, describe how the states must monitor and verify the hours that TANF recipients participate, and add some categories of parents who only receive benefits on behalf of their children to the work participation rate calculation.[1]  These regulations were required as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA; PL 109-171), which also substantially increased the effective targets for the proportion of TANF recipients who participate in federally countable work activities for a specified number of hours each week.

These regulations were issued on an interim final basis which means that they are effective immediately.  While HHS is accepting comments on the regulations until August 28 — and we strongly encourage interested parties to submit such comments — the regulations remain effective as published until HHS revises them.  Therefore, states must consider what changes they will need to make to their programs in order to bring them into conformity with the regulations.  (The preamble recognizes that, in some states, legislative action is necessary in order to change the states’ TANF program to reflect the new regulations.  HHS invites states that believe it will be impossible to meet the required participation rates without state legislative action to submit comments explaining why and to make suggestions on how HHS should use the reasonable cause exemption to provide penalty relief.)

This analysis provides an overview of the major regulatory provisions (though not every regulation is discussed) and the implications for state implementation of the changes in the DRA.  In some cases, however, it is not entirely clear what HHS intended by a provision, or whether a certain program model would fall within the range of allowable activities.   More information about these areas of uncertainty may become available as HHS conducts outreach on the regulations and provides additional guidance to states on the information that must be submitted for purposes of the Work Verification Plans.

Most, if not all, states will be revising their TANF programs in response to the changes made by the Deficit Reduction Act and this regulation.  In this process, it is critical that states maintain focus on the overall goal of helping low-income families improve their employment outcomes and support their families, not just on achieving the required participation rates.  As states examine the set of work-related activities that they offer to welfare recipients, they should ensure that they are providing effective work-focused activities that are appropriate for the characteristics of individuals in their caseload as well as the supportive services needed to enable recipients to participate.  While a full discussion of these choices is outside the scope of this paper, the Center and CLASP will soon be updating our guide, Implementing the TANF Changes in the DRA: “Win-Win” Solutions for Families and States, to reflect the new regulations.  The previously issued guide is available from both the Center and CLASP websites.

Amy-Ellen Duke and Julie Strawn, CLASP Senior Policy Analysts, contributed to this analysis.

This memo includes the following sections:

  • Definitions of Work Activities (page 2)
  • Implications of Work Activity Definitions on Services to Address Certain Barriers to Employment (page 19)
  • Definition of “Work-Eligible Individual” (and the Treatment of Child-Only Cases) (page 21
  • How Hours of Participation Must be Counted, Tracked, and Verified (page 25)
  • Implications of the Regulations on Child Care Programs (page 33)
  • Changes in the Maintenance-of-Effort Requirement (page 33)

Click here to read the full analysis (34pp.)

End Notes

[1] The regulations were published at 71 Federal Register 37454–37483, and are available online through GPO Access at: