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How TANF funds could bring support to Maury County families in need
Daily Herald - 2/11/2021
Feb. 11—Some of Maury County's community support services, and those across the state, might soon have additional funding to help families in need.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville have proposed a bill that would limit the state's reserve of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grants to $191 million.
The amount proposed, equates to the annual amount the federal government awards to Tennessee for the program managed by the Department of Human Services.
The bill's introduction follows scrutiny of the state government initiated when The Tennessean first reported in 2019 that the state had accumulated $732 million in unused TANF grants.
The unused funds were identified by the fiscally conservative Beacon Center of Tennessee, while compiling a report.
The new legislation establishes a plan to invest $300 million in TANF funds in eight community projects through an extensive application process, it also requires professional researchers to evaluate the programs being funded to ensure they're making a positive impact.
If passed, the bill would lead the state to begin distributing a $740 million stash in federal block grant funding, potentially bringing additional support to Maury County's families in need.
"DHS is still in the process of working with the Tennessee General Assembly TANF Work Group to review the potential impact of Rep. Hawk's bill and all other TANF related legislation that has been filed," said Sky Arnold, press secretary of the Tennessee Department of Human Services in an email shared this week.
Arnold explained that the primary use of Tennessee' $190.8 million dollar annual TANF block grant is the Families First program, which provides temporary cash assistance, transportation, child care assistance, educational supports, job training, employment activities, and other support services to more than 30,000 Tennesseans.
In the past five years, TANF funding has provided over $1.8 million in assistance to support families in Maury County, with a monthly distribution between $24,000 and $45,000 each month.
As a whole, local organizations and government agencies receive a portion of the TANF grants to support families in need.
In Maury County, those organizations that receive TAVF funds include the Catholic Charities of Tennessee, A Step Ahead Foundation of Middle Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, for example.
A Step Ahead Foundation of Middle Tennessee, a non-profit organization, promotes awareness about family planning methods and offers access to free, long-acting reversible contraception.
After receiving its first grant through TANF in October 2020, the organization is expanding its reach from Metro Nashville's seven surrounding counties to 18 throughout greater Middle Tennessee, including Maury, Hickman, Williamson and Marshall.
"We serve girls and women to plan their futures and plan their pregnancies," said Jenny Matthews, the foundation's executive director. "It addresses core issues that help women to plan and have children when they are ready. It lets women focus on their education and families that make for healthier women, families and a healthier community."
Still in the midst of its expansion process, Matthews said the organization has appointed regional representatives who are developing relationships with partners in existing organizations with a presence in each community.
The Memphis-based organization organization was founded by Claudia Haltom in 2011 based on the community needs seen in her 17 years of experience serving as a juvenile court judicial magistrate.
The organization has since expanded to establish five more regional chapters in Nashville, Jackson, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Johnson City.
If approved, any additional spending in Maury County must fall under the following criteria:
— Providing assistance to needy families with children so that they can live in their own homes or the homes of relatives;
— Ending dependence of needy parents on government benefits through work, job preparation, and marriage;
— Reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and
— Promoting the formation and maintenance of two-parent families
To participate in the program, the Department of Human Services states families must submit an application and meet financial and non-financial eligibility requirements in order to receive cash assistance and other supportive service offered through the Families First program.
DHS also contracts with Workforce Essentials to provide employment and educational training as well as other supportive services to the families.
The state's Family and Children's Services is available to offer short term counseling to families who have barriers to employment.
Natalie Allison of The Tennessean contributed to this report.
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