The Tennessee Opportunity Act Helps Administer Assistance For Needy Families

Monday, May 17, 2021

Among the most important pieces of legislation this year was the Tennessee Opportunity Act, which establishes a long overdue, responsible and responsive approach to administering Tennessee’s annual federal block grant of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars.  Key provisions of the bill which we championed will establish a reasonable TANF reserve, deploy the funds to where the need is, and through rigorous evaluation will ensure we ultimately scale up what works to promote family self-sufficiency and depart from low-performing options. 

In late 2019, when a Beacon Center report revealed that Tennessee’s regular underutilization of the annual TANF block grant had led to a $732 million unspent balance, Speaker Sexton and Lt. Governor McNally had the wisdom to establish a legislative working group. The charge was to assess the program and identify ways to make it more effective and accountable.

As two of the legislators serving on the TANF working group, we became clear that improving the TANF program would include maintaining a reasonable unspent balance for “rainy days”, but that deploying the federal TANF block grant more fully going forward would also be important. As we peeled back the layers and focused on program potential, it was also quite clear that how well Tennessee utilizes funds will prove more important than how much is spent.

In working with the Lee Administration, members of the TANF working group Chaired by Rep. Bryan Terry, and the nonprofit community, especially Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, we are pleased to have supported sweeping strategic changes to our state’s TANF program. 

Thanks to legislation, there is established an ongoing TANF reserve balance of $191 million – a year’s worth of block grant dollars. This approach is consistent with Tennessee’s fiscal conservatism and will position us in the top tier of states’ TANF reserves. Being nimble to economic conditions is important and this change enables Governor Lee and his successors to have flexibility to draw down on the reserve in the case of state-declared emergencies or if the unemployment rate becomes a concern. Following any such use, replenishing the fund balance will be required.

A likewise significant part of the legislation will strategically deploy $182 million of Tennessee’s $700+ million unspent balance for the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot initiative. Through the pilot six communities will be awarded up to $25 million each over three years to implement locally driven, evidence-informed initiatives to strengthen families and promote economic self-sufficiency.  Key to the pilot program is that it will include a rigorous evaluation by a third party, as well as oversight by an advisory board working with Tennessee Department of Human Services to review and approve applications, track performance and make recommendations for future TANF spending. It is our intention that Tennessee more rigorously measures TANF investments, scales up what works, and departs from low-performing options.

As for the annual block grant, this legislation ensures future funds other than the rainy day balance they are fully allocated, and that those funds are deployed in counties throughout the state proportionally to their share of children in poverty. This approach will ensure that that money regularly gets to where the need is – equitably across urban, rural, and suburban communities.

Our work with the Lee Administration and the nonprofit community to develop these changes was a true collaborative effort and exemplifies how the legislative, executive and nonprofit communities, working together, can responsively and responsibly invest to improve the quality of life for Tennesseans.

Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson)
Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville)


Dean Moorhouse Thanks Supporters

Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com; Include Your Full Name, Address, Phone Number For Verification

Roy Exum: Sethi Wants Term Limits


I would like to thank my many supporters in District 9 who sent emails, made calls to commissioners on my behalf, and encouraged others to do likewise. Unfortunately I fell short of the necessary ... (click for more)

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. This includes your home address and phone ... (click for more)

Manny Sethi, the son of immigrants from India, had no experience whatsoever in 2020 when he, a 42-year-old, challenged Bill Hagerty to replace a retiring Lamar Alexander as a Senator from Tennessee. ... (click for more)



Opinion

Dean Moorhouse Thanks Supporters

I would like to thank my many supporters in District 9 who sent emails, made calls to commissioners on my behalf, and encouraged others to do likewise. Unfortunately I fell short of the necessary five votes. Your continued support, your encouragement, and especially your love of our community makes District 9, indeed the crown jewel of Hamilton County. And to Commissioner Bankston ... (click for more)

Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com; Include Your Full Name, Address, Phone Number For Verification

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. This includes your home address and phone number. We do not post the contact information, but need it for verification. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Greg Vital, Hoyt Samples, D'Angelo Jelks Pick Up For House District 29 Race

Businessman Greg Vital, who lost a squeaker of a race to Todd Gardenhire for state Senate in 2012, has picked up papers to run as a Republican for House District 29. Attorney Hoyt Samples also picked up to run on the GOP side. D'Angelo Jelks is a Democratic candidate. The County Commission has appointed Joan Carter to serve until the election. She is the widow of Mike Carter, ... (click for more)

National Cemetery Director Says 6 Potential Sites Picked For Expansion Of Cemetery; Veteran Services To Move Back To Cemetery

Chattanooga VA National Cemetery Director Deborah Kendrick said the VA has identified six possible sites for cemetery expansion in Chattanooga. She said those locations have not been made public. Ms. Kendrick said the VA hopes to break ground for a new cemetery in 2027 or 2028. The federal government said last year that it was running out of ground at the cemetery and was ... (click for more)

Sports

Chuckie Robinson's Bomb Is The Difference - Greene Strikes Out Nine E

Jose Barrero is known for his bat, but he showed his glove was just as good in a great play during the fifth inning of the Lookouts 1-0 win against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. On a difficult ground ball, he slid to one side, scooped up the grounder, tapped on second, and jumped to avoid the sliding runner while rifling a throw to first. In what was a scoreless game, web gems like ... (click for more)

Jumbotron Completed At Red Wolves' CHI Memorial Stadium

Chattanooga Red Wolves officials announced on Friday the completion of CHI Memorial Stadium's brand new Jumbotron. The Jumbotron boasts over 2,000 square feet in size or approximately 34’ by 61’ making it the largest in the city of Chattanooga and one of the largest digital scoreboards in the state of Tennessee. The Jumbotron houses 732,672 LEDs, 4k video resolution and 3 in ... (click for more)