NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — State leaders announced Thursday that a local development organization will receive $25 million in federal funding to battle economic disparities and vulnerabilities in the region.

The First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) Foundation will be able to use these funds to assist families in need after developing a three-year pilot program for people eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

At a press conference Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said that a total of $175 million was split among seven organizations in Tennessee to implement social services statewide as part of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative. The funds are part of more than $700 million that was in the state’s TANF reserve fund. Legislators voted last year to spend that down to a one-year reserve, freeing up more than $500 million.

State Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) worked on the initiative’s development and also served on the review committee that vetted 17 finalists for the seven grants.

“The First Tennessee Development District did an amazing job in presentation to a statewide advisory council on Families First (the name of Tennessee’s TANF program),” Hawk said.

The FTDD will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant and work with multiple non-profit partners to address some of the most vexing hurdles faced by working families trying to reach total self-sufficiency.

“The development district wants to create some unique opportunities for families in terms of … high level child care where there’s an educational component for young children, trying to help working families with that aspect, trying to help working families with some last-dollar transportation needs,” Hawk said.

The program will also look to help families facing what is known as the “financial cliff” — a point when families’ income causes such a sudden drop in other benefits that many choose to “stay in a less productive place in their life,” Hawk said.

“They’re putting forth some provisions that are going to help families jump over that financial cliff and not be put in a position where they would rather stay on public benefits as opposed to stay in the workforce.”

Those are the kinds of programs that won what was a very competitive grant process, a state official said.

“Tennessee is taking a comprehensive approach to serving those who are the most economically vulnerable, in a truly transformative way,” said TDHS Commissioner Clarence H. Carter. “Through this collaboration of multi-disciplinary partners dedicated to engaging all sectors of the state, these pilots offer an opportunity for innovation and best practices to match the needs of low-income families in their journey forward.”

A board selected two pilot programs from each grand division of the state. In East Tennessee, that includes the FTDD Foundation and the United Way of Greater Knoxville.

The challenge, Hawk said, is “that we get this right in Northeast Tennessee with the idea that we’re going to be able to replicate this to other parts of the state in days to come.”

Funding for the pilot initiative is provided through the TANF, which focuses on strengthening families and emphasizing work and personal responsibility to promote long-term success.

“Families want to better themselves, but there’s a few issues that, life happens,” Hawk said.

“When they’ve got car issues, they don’t have a reliable vehicle, they can’t get to work, they can’t make money and it starts a downward spiral.”

He hopes the pilot will focus on temporary measures that provide long-term solutions.

“Those are some issues we feel we can handle in a fairly quick turnaround and just bring the next family into a level of care. Not just focus on one family for years and years, but allow family after family after family to come into this and give them the assistance they need to get back on their feet again,” Hawk said.