$175M in TANF funds to implement pilot program for needy Tennessee families

$175 million from Federal TANF funds will make this possible according to Gov. Lee.
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 10:46 AM CDT|Updated: May. 5, 2022 at 5:01 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will soon be available to seven groups in Tennessee to help better serve low-income families.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Human Services announced Thursday that $175 million would be available.

“Every Tennessean deserves our best effort. We should create an environment where Tennesseans can thrive, and that includes every single Tennessean,” Lee said.

The funds are part of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative created as part of the TANF Opportunity Act that passed in 2021. The seven groups will be receiving $25 million for three years to implement innovative pilot initiatives.

One of the organizations receiving the grant money is the Martha O’Bryan Center in Nashville.

“It will incentivize work,” Marsha Edwards, President & CEO of Martha O’Bryan Center, said. “When families have the ability to continue to earn more, continue to build economic stability for their children and themselves. We believe they will.”

Martha O’Bryan Center is an anti-poverty group cradled by career organizations serving every zip code in Davidson County. Officials with the center said the $25 million grant and its pilot program would help take on the significant issues of the benefits cliff. Something officials with the center said many low-income families face.

“If you are on TANF, a lot of times what happens is you get a job, you’re excited, and then find out you lost your childcare,” Edwards said. “What this grand does is bridge those cliffs so people can continue to rise economically.”

Edwards said their innovative initiative would help about 900 to 1,000 families. In addition, the center said it could mean receiving about $5,500 in transitional benefits on average.

“This is not an innovation around guaranteed income,” Edwards said. “Under this innovation, families will receive extra ability in accessing food through our great partner Second Harvest. They will also receive cash incentives that will go directly to their childcare provider, to maybe healthcare, if that’s an issue, or to their landlord.”

The other groups which will be receiving $25 million each include:

  • Families Matter and the University of Memphis in West Tennessee
  • Family & Children’s Service and Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency in Middle Tennessee
  • First Tennessee Development District Foundation and United Way of Greater Knoxville in East Tennessee.

“Government cannot solve the problems of the day, but we can work together to create an environment where the people do that,” Lee said.

“We are beefing up the monitoring of that specifically to support these seven pilots. We will walk alongside them to ensure that every dollar of that $25 million, that all seven pilots will be dollars spent to serve the purpose of that particular pilot,” Tennessee Department of Human Services Commissioner Clarence Carter said.

The Martha O’Bryan Center said it would begin using funds from the grant in November.

“We plan on being prepared on being able to serve families in this way,” Edwards said. “This grant is about that transitional benefits we just discussed, but it is also about wrap-around services and an approach to serving families in need which is called family-centered coaching.”

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