Statement of Paul Marchand, Assistant Executive Director,  Policy and Advocacy, Arc,
and Co-Chair, TANF Task Force, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Human Resources
of the House Committee on Ways and Means

Hearing on Welfare Reform Reauthorization Proposals

April 11, 2002

Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, I am Paul Marchand, the Assistant Executive Director for Policy and Advocacy at The Arc, and co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities’ TANF Task Force.   I am accompanied today by Laurel Stine, the Director of Federal Relations at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and co-chair of the CCD TANF Task Force.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is a coalition of approximately 100 national consumer, advocacy, provider and professional organizations headquartered in Washington, DC.   We work together to advocate for national public policy that ensures the self determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society.   The CCD advocates on behalf of people of all ages with physical and mental disabilities and their families through organized Task Forces on such issues as housing, health care, education, and welfare reform.  The CCD TANF Task Force seeks to ensure that families that include persons with disabilities are afforded equal opportunities and appropriate accommodations under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. 

Included in my written statement is the governing document for our task force.  Principles Guiding the Reauthorization of TANF spells out the key principles that we believe should underlie improvements in TANF reauthorization from a disability perspective.  The recommendations included in my statement also appear in a second governing document for the task force; these recommendations describe the steps we believe are needed to implement those principles in ways that will help parents with disabilities and parents caring for children with disabilities to be able to maximize their potential through the TANF program.

We start from the premise that all people with disabilities must have the opportunity to maximize their potential — including to be able to work — and that it is the legal obligation of the government — federal, state and local — to ensure that people with disabilities have equal and meaningful access to all programs receiving federal funds.  This is the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both of which Congress specifically incorporated into the TANF statute in 1996 at Section 408(c), 42 U.S.C. §608(c). 

It is still common for policymakers not to realize that many people with disabilities are in the families being served by TANF programs.  Early in the process of welfare reform, the thinking among many state level policymakers was, if the person was really disabled then she would be receiving Supplemental Security Income.  And, for some parents and children on TANF, it is true that they should be receiving SSI and may need their state’s help in securing these benefits.  But, the SSI eligibility criteria require a severe disability and we are finding that there are many who do not meet the SSI test but who clearly are disabled for TANF purposes.  The studies now show that many parents on TANF have disabilities and other health conditions that inhibit their ability to work, but who with appropriate supports and services, could be working.  Last fall, the General Accounting Office found that 44 percent of parents receiving TANF had at least one physical or mental health impairment, three times higher than the rate of such impairments among adults not receiving TANF benefits.[1]  This confirmed earlier findings from the Urban Institute and others.[2] 

The studies show that parents on TANF have mental impairments such as severe depression, general anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, learning disabilities, mental retardation, and physical impairments.  These impairments can make it difficult for a parent to work or to understand and comply with state rules.  Many families have multiple barriers to work, one or more of which is a disability or health condition.[3]  In many instances, parents would like to work but will need intensive supports and services if they are to succeed.  Some examples of these supports include training designed to take into account the person’s disability, counseling, substance abuse treatment, on-the-job supports, child care and transportation.  For some, full-time work may be the long-term goal, but there will need to be numerous smaller steps taken over time before such a goal can be reached.  For others, part-time work in a supportive setting may be the ultimate goal. 

There also are children with disabilities in TANF families.  Some of these children receive SSI — the Urban Institute has reported that about four percent of children in TANF families receive SSI children’s disability benefits[4] — while far more have health conditions that do not rise to the SSI level of severity but who nevertheless require constant parental care and attention. For example, the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, studying TANF recipient families in four urban counties — Los Angeles, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Miami-Dade, FL, and Cuyahoga County, OH (Cleveland) — found that one-fourth of non-employed mothers receiving TANF had a child with an illness or disability that limited the mothers’ ability to workor attend school.[5] 

Our sense it that the picture over the past five years as it applies to people with disabilities is mixed.  Some parents with disabilities are now working but many others have been inappropriately sanctioned and lost TANF or have not received the services and supports they will need — often on a long-term basis — in order to take the steps that will ultimately allow them to work or achieve a greater degree of independence.  Even among those who are working, we are concerned that some may be struggling to hang on to jobs and need additional supports and services to succeed. We were very pleased last year when the Office for Civil Rights at HHS issued guidance to states and counties explaining how the ADA and Section 504 apply in the TANF program.[6]  This important step has helped to alert states and counties to their obligations to assist people with disabilities and to focus their attention on the types of policy changes that will be needed to ensure that people with disabilities are fully protected and served in their programs. 

There is some evidence that some states are taking steps to assist people with disabilities in their TANF programs — and some of this evidence pre-dates the OCR guidance.  But, the research reflects that these efforts are still very much in their infancy and that parents with disabilities and parents caring for children with disabilities continue to be at a disadvantage in most state TANF programs.  We know, for example, that significant numbers of parents with disabilities are among those who have been sanctioned off of state TANF programs — often because their disability prevented them from complying.  MDRC found that, “[w]elfare recipients with multiple health problems and with certain health problems (notably, physical abuse, risk of depression, having a chronically ill or disabled child) were more likely than other recipients to have been sanctioned in the prior year.”  And, among those who had left welfare, “[w]elfare leavers with multiple health problems were more likely than other women who had left welfare to say that they had been terminated by the welfare agency rather than that they left on their own accord.”[7] 

We also know of numerous disturbing examples of families with a member with disabilities where the system has failed them — as well as some for whom the system has worked.  Consider, for example, these two parents’ stories, included by the Colorado Governor’s Task Force on Welfare Reform in their report,  Moving Forward with Welfare Reform:[8]

Client A:

“A client was tested and had an IQ of 67.  She was sent to Vocational Rehab and then instructed to seek work.  She received child care for two occasions and then was sanctioned in Colorado Works.  Her family became homeless in November 1998 and the children were placed in foster care in December 1998.”

Client B:

“A client has an IQ of 67 and is a victim of domestic violence.  There is suspicion of brain damage as a result of abuse.  She cannot communicate well, she is conscientious but has few skills.  She has an anxiety disorder which cannot be treated because of her heart problem.  She sees a physician weekly to manage blood thinning medications.  She had surgery for a valve replacement one year ago.  She was assigned to a community college program which reported that she would be doing fine but then the next day she couldn’t remember what she had learned.  It takes the parent approximately one month to learn a bus route.  The county required that she find a job in six months.  Later that expectation was lowered to ten hours of time within her supported living program.”

The description of the steps the state took to help Client B provides a sense of the types of steps that states will need to take in order to help some parents with disabilities to maximize their potential.  Unfortunately, no steps — not even ongoing child care for her children — were taken to assist Client A, with the tragic consequence that she was sanctioned, lost her home, and then lost custody of her children.  It should not be acceptable to the Congress that even one parent with disabilities or one parent caring for a child with disabilities faces these types of consequences in TANF.  Unfortunately, the research suggests that problems like this are all to frequently occurring across the country, at great personal expense to parents and children.

The CCD TANF Task Force recommends that Congress take the following steps to ensure that parents with disabilities and parents caring for children with disabilities are able not only to fully benefit from the TANF program but also not harmed by policies that do not take into account the impact of their disabilities on their ability to comply with program rules:

Screening and Assessment

 States should consider other documentation of the existence of a disability in a family.

 Services

Work Requirements/Work Participation

Time limits

Sanctions and Closures

 Ensuring Continued Success For People in Transition to Work

Civil Rights

Client Assistance/Ombudsman 

 Participation in Program Design

 Qualified Service Providers & Technical Assistance

 Research

 Funding

Finally, in closing, we are very concerned that proposals to increase the number of work activity hours per week required of parents and to increase states’ work participation rates will increase the negative outcomes for people with disabilities in TANF-funded programs.  By reducing state flexibility and forcing states to redirect dollars away from services into work experience positions, states will find it harder to assist parents with barriers, including parents with disabilities.  For far too many parents with disabilities — and parents caring for a child with disabilities —  a requirement of 24 hours per week of work supplemented by 16 hours of more flexible activities will present an insurmountable obstacle to moving ahead.and, we fear, will lead to even more sanctioning of some of the most needy and vulnerable families.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify.  We will be happy to be helpful to you and your staff as you mark up the TANF reauthorization bill.


PRINCIPLES GUIDING

 THE REAUTHORIZATION OF TANF

 I.  Foundation Statement

1.  TANF must be consistent with the principles and goals of national disability policy as articulated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)--

The ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are specifically incorporated by reference in TANF.

2.  Modifications to TANF must reflect research. According to research and studies, families that include an adult or child with a disability comprise a substantial proportion of the families remaining on TANF cash assistance. While some families have exited TANF and entered the workforce, others remain on the caseload without access to the assistance they require to be successful. Alarmingly, studies confirm that adults with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the former TANF recipients who have lost assistance due to a sanction.

II.  Assessments, Services and Supports

1.  Appropriate screening and comprehensive assessments must be provided by state and local agencies in order to make accurate and thorough decisions about the needs for services, supports and program modifications.  Assessments may be particularly helpful to identify those TANF recipients who have never been diagnosed as having a disability and TANF recipients who might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance.

2.  Services, supports and treatment under TANF funded programs shall be provided in accordance with the abilities and capabilities of the individual and the needs of the family, including a parent who has a child with a disability. States must modify program requirements to accommodate persons with disabilities and must commit resources, effort, and time necessary to enable individuals with disabilities to meet those requirements.

3.  Services, supports and treatment must address the multiplicity of barriers facing persons with disabilities, including the lack of appropriate and affordable health care and substance abuse treatment, child care, education, assistive technology, accessible transportation, accessible housing and ongoing employment supports.

4.  The need for services, supports and treatment must be based on facts and objective evidence. In addition, individualized plans must be developed that reflect identified needs as determined by the individual, their representatives and qualified personnel.

5.  States should be required to offer screening and assessment to individuals and to explain fully the advantages of participation (e.g. availability of reasonable modifications in policies and requirements) and the disadvantages of not participating (e.g. work requirements, time limits and other requirements will be imposed without modifications and, if the individual cannot comply, may lead to sanction or case closure), but an individual must be free to decline to participate.

III.  Work Requirements, Time Limits and Sanctions

1.  TANF policies, practices, and procedures must address and accommodate the impacts and variations in types and severity of disabilities have on work and support needs, including the reality that for some persons with disabilities, the ability to work varies over time because of the episodic nature of disability. In addition, it must be recognized that some individuals with disabilities, with appropriate services, supports and treatment:

2.  Work participation should reflect the following policies:

3.  An individual should not be subject to sanctions or case closure if the person's alleged non compliance or behavior is a manifestation of his or her disability, is related to the state's failure to offer screening and comprehensive assessments, or to provide necessary individualized services, supports and treatments.

4.  In calculating time limits, States should be required to disregard months of assistance received by an individual with significant barriers to employment during any period in which the state did not provide necessary services, supports and treatments or reasonable modifications to the individual or the individual is unable to meet the full work requirements because of the nature or severity of his or her disability or the failure of the system to provide reasonable modifications.

 IV.  State and Federal Systemic Changes

1.  State and local agencies must use relevant, qualified personnel to conduct screening, assessments and eligibility determinations.  Further, service providers with whom public agencies contract to provide services and supports must use qualified personnel who can ensure that the services and supports meet the unique needs of persons with disabilities.

2.  Services and supports may be provided directly by the state or local welfare agency or through contract or arrangement with other public and private agencies.  Whether or not TANF agencies contract out services, they remain responsible for ensuring that persons with disabilities receive services, supports, treatment and modifications they need.

3.  To ensure consistency among job-training programs in a state, employment-related services and supports provided under TANF should be subject to the same plans (methods of administration) for complying with civil rights requirements as other job training programs such as programs under the Workforce Investment Act.

4.  TANF must ensure meaningful input for persons with disabilities and their representatives and other stakeholders with respect to the design, implementation, and evaluation of TANF programs.

5.  Persons with disabilities applying for or receiving services under TANF should have assistance available (e.g., client assistance programs) to ensure that they understand and can exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities.

6.  Systems for collecting data should enable agencies and other stakeholders to ascertain the extent to which public agencies are meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.

7.  The Federal government should support state initiatives to achieve systemic improvements in the capacity of programs to address the unique needs of persons with disabilities (e.g., collaboration among agencies, identification of available funding sources, model screening and assessment instruments and procedures, and personnel preparation).

8.  The Federal government should maintain a strong and effective program to monitor and enforce civil rights laws, including the ADA and Section 504, in state TANF programs.

9.  The federal government must provide sufficient funds to support state efforts under TANF, including cost of living increases.


[1]  U.S. General Accounting Office, Welfare Reform: More Coordinated Federal Effort Could Help States and Localities Move TANF Recipients with Impairments Toward Employment, October 2001, available at http://www.gao.gov.

[2]  Sheila R. Zedlewski, Work Activity and Obstacles to Work Among TANF Recipients, Urban Institute, Series B, No. B-2, September 1999, http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/anf_b2.pdf.  For a discussion of numerous studies that have reported on the status of parents with disabilities in state TANF programs, see Eileen P. Sweeney, Recent Studies Indicate that Many Parents Who are Current or Former Welfare Recipients Have Disabilities or Other Medical Conditions, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 2000, http://www.cbpp.org/2-29-00.htm.  See also, Heidi Goldberg, Improving TANF Program Outcomes for Families with Barriers to Employment, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, January 2002, http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-02tanf3.htm.

[3]  Sandra Danziger, Mary Corcoran, Sheldon Danziger, et al., Barriers to Employment of Welfare Recipients, University of Michigan Poverty Research and Training Center, February 2000, http://www.ssw.umich.edu/poverty/pubs.html.

   [4]  Zedlewski, 1999.

   [5]  Denise Polit, Andrew London, and John Martinez, The Health of Poor Urban Women: Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, May 2001, http://www.mdrc.org/Reports2001/UC-HealthrReport-FullRpt2001.pdf.  See also, Barbara W. LeRoy, Donna M. Johnson, Sharonlyn Harrison, Open Road or Blind Alley?  Welfare Reform, Mothers and Children with Disabilities, Skillman Center for Children, Wayne State University, Occasional Paper Series 2000, No. 4, November 2000, http://www.skillmancenter.culma.wayne.edu/OP%202000-4.pdf.

   [6]  Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Prohibition Against Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in the Administration of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), 2001, http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/prohibition.html.

   [7]  Polit, London, and Martinez, May 2001. 

   [8]  Governor’s Task Force on Welfare Reform Report, Colorado, September 2000.