Proposed ‘TN Opportunity Act’ aimed to use surplus TANF funds to help families in need by end of 2021


TENNESSEE (WJHL) – A local Tennessee state representative proposed a bill aimed at helping families in need. The proposal called the “TN Opportunity Act” would change the way Tennessee Assistance for Needy Families funds is allocated.

According to state representative David Hawk (R-Greeneville), there is currently a $700 million surplus in the TANF fund. He told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that a task force was created to learn why there is such a large surplus, and what is to be done about it.

Tennessee has participated in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for decades, Hawk explained.

“I was asked to serve on a task force at a legislative level to see why we had accumulated $700 million-plus, in this particular fund. So we studied it for well over a year, and come up with some suggestions of better ways to utilize these dollars. Now that being said, Tennessee is very financially conservative. We don’t spend money that we don’t have. We like to spend recurring dollars on recurring expenses so we do that very well, but these are some dollars that have just grown and grown and grown over the last five, six, seven years,” he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson, who is the chairman of Senate Finance, co-authored the piece of legislation with Hawk that would better utilize dollars, allow communities, cities, and counties across Tennessee, to come up with a way to assist these needy families in ways that reflect their community needs, he explained.

“The Tennessee Department of Human Services, they oversee this project right now. And they’ve done a good job but I’m fearful that they’ve been picking and choosing what communities, the funds may go to, and in that vein, they’ve been picking and choosing, you know, some of the programs that have been been working, some have not. so we’re going to try to put substantial amount of money $300 million. So it’s a huge amount of money back into local programs, trying to help families get back on their feet again, the temporary T of the TANF program temporary this program is only allowable for families to be on for five years at a time so it’s not a permanent entitlement program. This is a program where we want to get some families, assistance that they need and get them back on their feet so they can go back to making a good living,” Hawk added.

The 10-page proposed legislation dubbed the “TN Opportunity Act,” Hawk said could pass through the legislative process as soon as this spring. After that, communities would be able to submit applications to receive a $500,000 grant to be evaluated by an advisory board.

Out of those applications, eight will be approved across the state.

The Act outlines that $300 million of the state’s TANF fund surplus will be divided among the eight beneficiary regions, counties, or communities. These applications must show the applicants’ commitment to improving its community in the following ways:

  • Home visiting services;
  • High quality child care programs and child care provider networks;
  • Wrap-around services;
  • After school and summer learning programs approved with curricula approved by the department of education;
  • Workforce training and apprenticeship programs;
  • Economic advancement supports, including transportation and housing;
  • High quality data systems for accountability and continuous improvement; and
  • Other evidence-based and evidence-informed solutions identified by the communities.

“Hopefully, because there is a substantial amount of money there, that we’re going to be able to say ‘yes’ a lot to these community proposals, so something that’s come up in Greene County in particular, an impediment to work, or getting individuals to and from work has been transportation, and we’re trying to think ‘what if you’ve got Industry XYZ who has a shortage of employees if they are looking for employees, and could we create a bussing-type system, or would they have an opportunity to create a van or some type of system where they could go pick up employees – kind of like you pick up school kids every day to go to school – could an industry apply for a grant such as this and create a transportation program?’ So, that’s one innovative thought that I have tried to put pen to paper and suggest to some local folks here in Greene County that that could be an option and could be a possibility for some of these dollars. So, I’m hopeful that communities will come up with innovative ways to spend these dollars, and ultimately, it’s to help families get back on their feet again, to get viable work, to help with childcare, and to get individuals at a place where they can come off of any type of public assistance, and for the most part, the people, the individuals that are eligible for these dollars, the families that we’re talking about, the temporary assistance, they are working folks who need just a little bit of help to get them back where they can be self-sufficient again,” Hawk told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Though the task force to determine a better use for the fund’s surplus was created before the COVID-19 pandemic started, Hawk explained that it is more important now than ever to help families in need.

To read more about the TN Opportunity Act, CLICK HERE.

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