Letter to Senators Concerning Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization

The Honorable Thomas Daschle
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Trent Lott
487 Russell Office Building
Washington, D.C., 20510 
The Honorable Max Baucus
511 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510 
The Honorable Charles Grassley
135 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senators Daschle, Lott, Baucus, Grassley:

As you consider legislation to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in the waning days of the 107th Congress, we urge your consideration of the barriers all women, including immigrants, face as they attempt to achieve self sufficiency for their families. The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology, and includes 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. Our mission is to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting health and human welfare.

Social science research and clinical experience demonstrate that mental health and substance abuse problems represent significant obstacles to employment and economic self-sufficiency for women receiving TANF benefits. TANF clients with mental health problems, if not identified and treated, are more likely to continue to require public assistance over a long period of time. Major depression is the most common mental health problem among TANF clients, followed by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety.

Mental health and substance abuse problems can adversely affect employment directly through absenteeism, illness, injury, reduced capacity, and lost productivity, or indirectly through lowered self-esteem and self-concept. We urge you to include provisions that would require states to develop a plan to ensure that standards and procedures are in place to address the needs of individuals who face barriers, to work such as a mental health problem (including learning disabilities), substance abuse problem, physical impairment, limited English proficiency, low educational level, and/or have been subjected to domestic or sexual violence. It is critical that those clients who are identified as encountering a barrier to work receive the appropriate services/treatment, and that receipt of those services/treatment is considered "work" for the purposes of the law.

Although there have been studies of how individual states have addressed the needs of TANF clients with substance abuse/mental health problems, states do not routinely report this information. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not TANF clients are receiving the necessary services to overcome barriers to economic self-sufficiency. We urge you to include provisions that would require states to routinely report data to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding the amount of funds spent on services, including, but not limited to, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence counseling, and rehabilitation for people with physical disabilities. The Secretary should also evaluate the process of referral, such as whether TANF clients received referrals and services, and how such services affected their economic status.

We believe that in order for welfare reform efforts to be successful, critically needed mental health and substance abuse services must be readily available, and state data must be evaluated by DHHS to ensure that states are doing everything they can to help women overcome barriers to work and achieve economic self-sufficiency for their families. For more information, please contact Lori Valencia Greene in APA’s Public Policy Office at 202-336-5931.