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Few N.D. families expected to lose welfare benefits in 2002

January 24, 2002

Bismarck, N.D. - The North Dakota Department of Human Services expects fewer than 25 families in the state to be affected in 2002 by the federally mandated 60-month lifetime limit on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

The lifetime limit on TANF cash benefits is one feature of welfare reform, which created a work-first philosophy, and offered families assistance with child care and transportation costs as they transitioned into the work force and increased their household incomes.

Department Executive Director Carol K. Olson noted that the TANF program must take precautions to assure the well being of children and families while still maintaining its integrity as a work-first program. "Every effort will be made to work with families who are at risk of losing benefits. Our objective is to maintain a safety net for truly needy families in North Dakota, while still enforcing the time limit and the temporary nature of TANF cash assistance," Olson said.

There are protections built into the program to help families impacted by domestic violence or disabling conditions, she said. Federal rules also allow exceptions for extreme economic hardship. In counties with an Indian reservation, any month with an unemployment rate greater than 50 percent does not count toward the lifetime benefit limit for families receiving TANF in those counties.

John Hougen, the department's TANF administrator said, "From July to December of 2002, 34 families will reach their 60th month on assistance, if present trends hold true. Thirteen other families who started receiving assistance in other states before coming to North Dakota will reach their lifetime limit before July 2002. Each of these 47 cases will be reviewed on an individual basis to determine if exceptions can be made. We expect over half of these families to qualify for extensions on TANF benefits or to qualify for other cash assistance programs."

Hougen said county workers have regular contact with TANF clients. The department formally notifies families six months and two months prior to the end of their TANF benefits. Notices explain the hardship exemption to the clients and encourage them to contact their case managers. He said that families where an adult is working when they reach their final month of TANF assistance, may still receive child care assistance and help with transportation costs.

Families who lose TANF cash benefits under the federal law may still qualify for other human service programs such as food stamps, heating assistance, medical assistance, or child care assistance.

Olson said, "Many people have used the TANF program in North Dakota to receive training, to find work, and to achieve greater independence. We continue to work with our partners to provide services and opportunities for those people who still need assistance."

Currently, the department is partnering with county social service offices, Job Service North Dakota, and tribal government programs such as Tribal NEW to work with TANF clients to identify barriers to employment and to provide services to overcome those barriers.

The welfare caseload peaked in North Dakota in 1994 at 6,500 cases. In July 1997 when the state implemented welfare reform, 3,859 families were receiving TANF assistance. Last month, 3,121 families received TANF cash assistance in North Dakota.

Contacts:

John Hougen, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program administrator, N.D. Department of Human Services, (701) 328-1715
Heather Steffl, Public Information Specialist, N.D. Department of Human Services, (701) 328-4933

 

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