County residents voice support for aid
November 11, 2001
By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the
Local residents and social service employees
voiced strong support for the Federal government’s Temporary
Aid for Needy Families program, known statewide as Colorado
TANF, which replaced Aid to Families with
Dependent Children in 1997, will be up for congressional
reauthorization next year.
Lezlie Mayer, interim director for social
services in La Plata County, said Thursday night at a public
hearing on TANF, that the program is superior to AFDC.
"Our numbers have decreased because we’ve had
success," she said in an interview prior to the meeting. "AFDC
was an entitlement program without time limits, so we had
generations of families on AFDC. With the shift in ’97 to
TANF, the goal is no longer entitlement, but giving support to
people gaining employment and self-sufficiency."
MaryKay Cook, manager of Colorado Works in
Denver, which coordinates the TANF program statewide,
expressed support for the newer program.
"The idea is to keep everyone doing something
– maybe it’s work; maybe it’s preparing for work," she
TANF is a monthly cash-assistance program for
poor families with children younger than 18. Recipients are
required to work and can only receive benefits for a maximum
of 60 months, or 5 years. County departments of Colorado
Social Services, which also provide food stamps, Medicaid and
child care, are allowed to determine how to administer the
program based upon the needs of their communities.
This flexibility is a major strength of TANF,
said many of the community members at the meeting. "TANF
allowed counties to ask, ‘What services and supports need to
be developed and wrapped around other assistance to help
people work toward self-sufficiency?’" said Kevin Richards,
director of Colorado Works.
The coordinated efforts of various service
agencies in La Plata County under TANF helped Cristy Cain get
back to work despite a disability that occurred 10 years
Chronic ear infections developed into tumors
that led to major hearing loss, and the subsequent loss of her
job as a marketing representative, she said.
"In ’97 when the government introduced
‘welfare to work,’ I was very apprehensive," she said. "I
thought, ‘I have such huge barriers – am I going to wander
into the forest and just live there forever or what?’"
But the services Cain received, from gas
money and insurance vouchers to computer training and surgery
to remove her tumors, helped her regain financial
But despite TANF’s successes, the general
consensus was that there is still room for improvement. The
need to extend the time limit for benefits in some
circumstances was raised several times.
Carol Simmons, executive director of the
domestic-violence advocacy program Alternative Horizons, said
that the percentage of recipients allowed to extend benefits
(20 percent) is a statewide total, rather than the amount
allotted to each county.
The high cost of living in the region, the
downturn in the economy, the need to provide food stamps to
immigrants and the easing of limitations on transferring TANF
funds to child care were other recurring concerns.
Dedra Millich, director of Social Services
for the Southern Ute Tribe, said she would like to see
counties give full faith and credit to tribal courts, with
emphasis on child-support enforcement. "Some tribal members
wouldn’t need TANF if they could get their child support,"
Richards suggested audience members contact
their congressional representatives about voting to
reauthorize TANF, and against decreasing funding.
Delina DiSanto invited citizens to bring
comments about the program to Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s new
Durango office at 679 E. 2nd Ave, the old Morehart
Questions or concerns about TANF can be
e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Reeder is a free-lance journalist and a volunteer
hotline advocate at Alternative