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With TANF increase, Jeffco Human Services looks to find balance

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By Deborah Swearingen

A new state rule requires Jefferson County Human Services to increase the amount of basic cash assistance it provides to families in need.

According to information from Jeffco Human Services, the program — called Colorado Works or TANF, which stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — provides financial assistance, job preparation and work opportunities to needy families with children on a temporary basis. To receive money, families must meet a certain number of criteria, including being involved in a work activity. The goal is to help families achieve economic and family stability.

Although the increase is one the county Human Services Department supports, the change does present challenges since Jeffco is not receiving any additional money. Since the rule just recently went into effect, Jeffco Human Services is not feeling the impact of the change yet. However, county employees are working proactively to find ways to mitigate the problem before it happens.

“As a county, we are in full support of additional dollars going into households,” said Wanda Cowart with Jeffco Human Services. “We just would like for the state to work closer with the federal government to request additional dollars.”

Lynnae Flora, deputy director with Jeffco Human Services, agreed with Cowart, saying the change could certainly pose problems in the future.

“Across the state, eventually, if we don’t see some relief with additional dollars coming in, we may see some real problems being created for the local level and the counties themselves,” she said.

“Philosophically, the change that was made we agree with. It’s a good change,” Flora added. “… The devil’s in the mathematical details.”

For fiscal year 2019, Jeffco received $8.2 million for the program with $4 million going directly to families and the rest being used for supportive services. According to Flora, the money is considered an allocation, so it is not sitting in the bank but instead reimbursed to the county.

With the mandated basic cash assistance increase, the county may ultimately have to dip into money used for supportive services to provide financial assistance to families in need.

In Jefferson County, approximately 700 families were receiving basic cash assistance as of August. An additional 372 kinship families are receiving assistance. Kinship families refer to instances where someone other than a parent is providing support to a child. In this scenario, the child will receive cash assistance but not the rest of the family.

The amount families receive varies based on the number of people in the family and income, but families have not seen an across-the-board increase since 1996, according to Flora. With the new increase, a family with one parent and two children is set to receive an additional $46 monthly. Currently, the same family receives an average of about $463 a month.

“The purchasing power on the dollar has significantly reduced. That’s another reason that this is a good thing for families,” Flora said.

Commissioner Casey Tighe had similar thoughts when the issue was brought before the Jeffco commissioners during a Sept. 25 staff briefing.

“… I know it’s not a huge increase for the recipients, but things are costing more. So I think the families can use it,” Tighe said. “I see both sides. I know it’s going to make it a little harder for you guys to manage the fund because you lose flexibility.”

While the commissioners seemed to agree that the increase was largely positive, they did agree that it would be imperative to keep an eye on the issue. Jeffco Human Services will report back to the county after it has time to see how the increase plays out.