"I No Longer Qualify For TANF"
I received a text message yesterday from one of our veteran clients enrolled in the "Roadmap to Success" program and it nearly brought me to tears. “I no longer qualify for TANF” That’s it, six simple words that broke me down in the best way possible and proved to me that this dream turned reality is truly touching lives and making the community better for all of us.
For those of you unaware of the importance of these words, let me explain. The following quote is posted on the website for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services:
“North Carolinas Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, called Work First, is based on the premise that parents have a responsibility to support themselves and their children. Through Work First, parents can get short-term training and other services to help them become employed and self-sufficient, but the responsibility is theirs, and most families have two years to move off Work First Family Assistance.”
In short, TANF/Work First is North Carolina’s version of welfare in which qualifying families receive cash assistance to help make ends meet. Sounds great in theory, right? We’ve all heard the stories of people that have “lived off the system for generations”, “too lazy to work so they just collect cash from the government,” etc… but have any of you actually researched the requirements for that cash? I can only speak for what I have seen here in Cumberland County North Carolina, but I’m confident most other areas have similar programs.
In order to meet the requirements to receive cash assistance in the amount of $236 a month (YES! I meant to type month and not week) and $357 in food stamps, the veteran who sent the above text message was required to volunteer or conduct verifiable work search activities for 82 hours each and every month. How was that number determined? By calculating the amount of cash assistance they qualify for based on family size plus the amount of child support they receive plus the amount of food stamps they receive. That total is then divided by the minimum wage amount of $7.25 and voilà! you have the required number of hours.
We’ve been working with this veteran for almost a year and have known her even longer. Have watched her go from living in a shelter to a rundown apartment in a crime ridden neighborhood to a safe house she is proud to call home. We rode the unemployment roller coaster with her, encouraging at the low points and celebrating the highs. She was the guinea pig as we finetuned what services would and wouldn’t be offered and how they would be implemented.
And now? Now she is self-sufficient, strong, independent veteran and single mom handling her business with her head held high. She will be missed as she was one of the best volunteers I could have asked for, but I couldn’t be prouder of her and the journey she has followed over this past year. I once again look forward with a new burst of confidence and optimism for all the others we already have or will have the pleasure of helping discover their own path from a story of struggle to a story of success.