GAO Report on Benefits and Services for Kinship Families

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently released a report titled, “TANF and Child Welfare Programs: Increased Data Sharing Could Improve Access to Benefits and Services.” At the request of Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY), the report explores the trends and composition of kinship families served through TANF child-only and child welfare benefits and services.

Child-only TANF refers to situations in which a family receives TANF cash assistance, but that assistance only calculates the needs of the child and not their caregiver. A review of federal data reveals that the majority of children receiving TANF benefits are child-only cases, and of those, one-third are children raised by nonparent caregivers. The remaining child-only cases include parents who are ineligible for TANF or on SSI. It is also reported that nonparent caregivers in TANF child-only cases are typically older, single females who are likely to be unemployed and less healthy.

Based on state surveys of TANF and child welfare administrators and site visits in a handful of states, the report details the factors influencing the assistance and services provided to kinship families, based on a comparison of TANF and child welfare, their varying support levels, ways they typically work together, as well as barriers that prevent some forms of dual assistance. Generally, the lowest state foster care payment is higher than child-only TANF payments in almost all states, and families served by child welfare  typically have access to more services. However, licensure and other process requirements prevent many kinship families from accessing foster care payments and services. In addition, there are many more informal kinship arrangements in which kin families are not receiving benefits or services from either. Further detail is provided on barriers to benefit and service access and provision.

The Department of Health and Human Services agrees with the GAO recommendation that TANF and child welfare agencies could improve assistance to kinship families by better collaboratiion, particularly through enhanced data sharing and technical assistance on cooperation models.

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