Officials with the State of Tennessee are taking action after criticism from lawmakers and a watchdog group about millions of dollars in federal money that wasn't being used to help families in need.
Families First is the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. It's meant to help low-income families get on their feet through things like job training and childcare assistance.
Last week, the Beacon Center reported that the state has $737 million in unused federal dollars for the program that they could lose if not used. Knoxville representatives Rick Staples and Gloria Johnson said that money should be spent.
Now the Tennessee Dept. of Human Services has outlined a plan for investing those surplus dollars while saving some for the future.
“Unprecedented growth in our state’s economy has created a sharp decline in our TANF qualified population and also generated a generous surplus in funds,” said TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes. “We now have an opportunity to innovate and better serve our families in need through our Two Generation Approach while appropriately saving for a potential downturn in the economy.”
According to a press release, the state will keep a three-year surplus of $342 million while reopening a grant program, called Two Generation (2Gen), which will fund extending partnerships with non-profit groups and community organizations.
The press release also outlined additional funding promises:
- A $56 million grant to the Tennessee Department of Health to expand home visitation services to every county in Tennessee as part of early intervention efforts
- Approximately $30 million investment to expand resources and collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Education to expand family resource centers
- Approximately $30 million investment in new resources and assistance to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health to expand programs like the Therapeutic Intervention, Education, and Skills Program and other programs that support families facing drug addiction or mental health issues
- Approximately $10 million investment for additional collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services to create a program that assists relative caregivers and helps keep children together with their families and prevention/mitigation of adverse childhood experiences.
- $80 million for programming that supports a child support unit to provide employment and re-entry services to non-custodial parents; employment programming that addresses the medical and mental health needs of Families First clients; after-school programs to provide tutoring, healthy lifestyles, abstinence education, and workforce development for teenagers; programming to assist families with transportation barriers in both rural and urban communities.