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Blog: NETWORK Briefing a Successful Contribution to the TANF Conversation

Jul 20, 2010 | By Amy Johnson, Emerson Hunger Fellow

Yesterday, NETWORK hosted a briefing on the release of our report, TANF Tested: the Lives of Families in Poverty during the Recession. Roughly 40 people came to our office to attend the briefing and share their own wisdom gained from working on the TANF program.

Our Executive Director, Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, touched off an event with a warm welcome and an introduction into NETWORK’s 15-year legacy of advocacy for an effective Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which included two prior reports released in 1999 and 2001. Following Simone and despite a flight cancellation, Linda Howell-Perrin and Cassandra Barham called in to share their crucial on-the ground experience with TANF.

Linda Howell-Perrin is a NETWORK Board Member, Senior Case Manager at Bethany House Services (homeless family shelter) in Cincinnati, as well as a former single mother and welfare recipient. Cassandra Barham is the office manager at the Contact Center in Cincinnati, a nonprofit organization that organizes around poverty and welfare issues, and a former welfare recipient and mother of 7. Their comments on the limitations of TANF to help families rise above poverty from both a personal and professional perspective were insightful and very critical to hear in an environment where politics often drowns out the voices of those it intends to represent.

After our response from the field, Jean Sammon, NETWORK Field Coordinator, provided information about the TANF Watch Project that gave rise to our report. She highlighted that we partnered with various social service agencies across the country; staff and volunteers from these organizations conducted over 800 surveys that provided the context for our analysis of TANF. She also touched upon the problems with TANF’s “Work-First” emphasis, as people struggled to find employment—especially living wage positions—and to meet the employment requirements of TANF prior to and during the recession.

As a result of low income and limited employment, David Golemboski, NETWORK’s Field Associate, shared about the dramatic increase in hunger in comparison to responses from prior reports. Our NETWORK Lobbyist, Sister Marge Clark, BVM, then spoke about our survey findings on educational challenges—many respondents find low education a barrier to rising above poverty and see few opportunities to seek educational pursuits. She also noted many other barriers to employment, such as transportation and child care issues, as well as the problems that people face in seeking public benefits, such as a lack of outreach or knowledge about eligibility for the programs.

Following our survey findings, Sarah Carey, a NETWORK Lobby Associate, shared recommendations for future legislation in order to improve TANF and other public assistance programs. A time of interactive questions and comments ensued, in which various audience members asked questions about the report and shared some of their own inferences, such as the need to have more widespread use of electronic benefits calculators and the crucial importance of examining the struggles that people with disabilities and non-custodial fathers face in our current society. The event concluded with light refreshments as a celebration of the release of the report—a first step to providing candid insight into the TANF program as it comes up for reauthorization in the near future.

(For more information about the report, click here.)