TANF is due to be reauthorized by October, 2010. Now is the time to formulate an agenda to fix the program. Below are some basic elements of a TANF reform agenda (for starters)...
1) Revise the purposes of TANF. Dedicate the program to the goal of ending poverty.
2) Reframe the issue so that single mothers' poverty is clearly presented as a function of women's economic inequality (both as labor market workers and as caregivers).
3) Dedicate program changes to the goal of mother's economic security and equality. As a larger matter, this includes: a) specifically addressing wage inequalities; lack of paid family leave, UI for family quits, sick days, etc; as well as b) lack of economic valuation and support for caregiving work within families. Within TANF, it means: counting caregiving as work; guaranteeing child care and after care; emphasizing preparation for and access to jobs with living wages.
4) Call for restoring (and improving) the child care guarantee for recipients who are engaged in labor market work activities (including preparation for the labor market).
5) If the work activity formula is retained, broaden the definition of work to include: a) education; b) caregiving for one's own children; c) substance abuse and mental health treatment activities; d) overcoming barriers and time constraints imposed by efforts to escape domestic violence.
6) End marriage/fatherhood promotion within TANF. If the government insists on promoting heteromarital families, it should do so in entirely separate arenas that compel or meddle with everyone equally, regardless of income status.
7) End discrimination against single mothers -- eg the rule (i don't know if it's still in the program) that effectively permitted one parent in married families to remain at home while requiring full time "work" outside the home by lone parents.
8) Get rid of all surveillance of recipients.
9) Guarantee academic and vocational freedom to all recipients who engage in work-related activities. Recipients should not be tracked into certain majors/training programs or prohibited from others based on the government's view of what field of study/training is appropriate.
10) End time limits; end immigrant exclusions; end sanctions.
11) End mandatory cooperation with paternity establishment and child support enforcement for all custodial mothers -- take it out of TANF altogether.
12) Continue TANF as wage supplement for those who enter part-time and/or low wage jobs, to ensure a family income package up to 200% of the federal poverty line.
13) Fix/end barriers to participation in TANF, including diversion programs, discretionary application denials, arbitrary case closings, all sanctions.
14) Guarantee immediate access to TANF income assistance to those who are fleeing domestic violence.
15) Increase TANF benefit levels to 150% of the federal poverty line and provide a transportation subsidy to any TANF participant who must travel more than 5 miles to a job