During the recession, the Oregon TANF agency choose to let more families access cash assistance rather than restrict new applicants. This allowed parents to support their families during hard economic times, but the state had the largest caseload growth in the country between 2007 and 2013. In response to stretched resources, in 2011, the state reduced spending for programs to help move TANF parents to work. The improved economy is gradually reducing TANF cases, but not fast enough to get back to pre-recession levels for many years. Absent more effective action to move more clients into jobs, the dollars dedicated to basic benefits will remain relatively high. This report identifies other steps DHS management could take to put Oregon’s TANF program on more solid ground. Some recommendations include:
- Allowing clients more time and credit for pursuing GED certificates and higher education while working or looking for work;
- Allowing clients with barriers to employment to receive more participation credit for documented progress in activities, such as health care, addiction treatment and vocational rehabilitation, that help them address their barriers;
- Giving credit for partial participation in work-related activities, such as unpaid work experience and community service, particularly for clients with documented barriers.
- The state legislature should revisit budget and program decisions made during the recession that decreased client services and increased the number of TANF clients, using improved data on program performance and client needs.
- Federal auditors should review further federal TANF regulations that limit participation credit for clients who pursue education, health care, addiction treatment and other activities that help them address their barriers to work.