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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 17, 2003
1:19 PM
CONTACT:  National Council on Disability
Mark S. Quigley, 202-272-2004
National Council on Disability Calls for Improved Outcomes for Families with Disabilities on TANF
 
WASHINGTON - March 17 - A new position paper from the National Council on Disability (NCD) calls for Congress to strengthen the ability of states to assist families with disabilities on welfare to transition from welfare to work.

There is now a very strong record that indicates that significant numbers of parents with disabilities and parents with children with disabilities are in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The record also indicates that many of these families have been sanctioned and have not received the services and supports they need to succeed. Some of the states, using the flexibility that Congress gave them in 1996 and the TANF funds freed up due to falling cash assistance caseloads, have taken very practical steps to assist these families. The federal legislation should include provisions to ensure that people with disabilities receive the appropriate supports and services to enable them to transition to work successfully.

People with disabilities often face multiple barriers to work. In addition to the barriers faced by most low income Americans as they attempt to work, such as inadequate transportation and limited opportunities to improve education and skills, people with disabilities must meet the specific challenges of their physical or mental impairment or health condition-often requiring assistive technology, access to accessible transportation, sign language interpreters, or personal care assistance, work place supports etc. in order to participate in programs designed to assist them in finding work. When appropriate assessments of individual needs for reasonable accommodations are provided, people with disabilities are afforded equal opportunity for full participation, independent living, and economic stability.

This paper summarizes research about people with disabilities and TANF and some of the proposals being offered for consideration to improve how TANF-funded programs address the needs of families with a member with a disability. NCD makes the following recommendations for the TANF reauthorization:

-- Increase TANF and childcare funding; -- Ensure that parents with disabilities are screened, in a timely manner, with appropriate diagnostic tools; -- Prohibit states from sanctioning families until the state has taken steps to identify barriers, provided the family with assistance in meeting the rules; and modified rules, if necessary to address the parent's or child's disability so that the family can comply with TANF requirements; -- Provide states with flexibility in how they define countable work activities, including rehabilitation and participation in other activities that will help the parent to become work-ready, and how they determine the length of time a particular individual or family will need the specific services or treatment; -- Provide states with additional resources to train case workers and other staff who serve TANF recipients about issues unique to disabilities, including how to provide timely and effective screening, and how to identify programs, resources, and opportunities for collaborative community initiatives to achieve systemic improvements in services for people with disabilities; -- Create advisory panels at the state level to assist states in addressing the needs and barriers of people with disabilities; -- Facilitate access to continued Medicaid or other health coverage when recipients move from welfare to work; -- Assist states to better coordinate and provide services needed by children with disabilities and their families to address the multiple challenges facing parents and children with disabilities; and -- Ensure that TANF programs and services comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The TANF block grant, first created in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), was scheduled for reauthorization in 2002. Rather than undertaking the full reauthorization, Congress passed a short extension, which has since been extended to the end of June 2003. It is likely to be reauthorized by Congress in the next few months. As part of the reauthorization process, there have been many proposals to strengthen protections for parents and children with disabilities participating in TANF-funded programs. It is important that the law establish policies that reflect both the intention and desire of people with disabilities to work, and the reality that certain individuals may still have severe work limitations requiring long-term assistance in order to work.

The paper, TANF and Disability: Importance of Supports for Families with Disabilities in Welfare Reform, is available at http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/familysupports.html

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