The state of Utah receives the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant from the federal government. A portion of the TANF grant is used to administer cash assistance to the most needy for the intent of helping them get out of poverty and into jobs that support their families. Cash assistance is temporary and focused on supporting families, so children can be cared for in their own homes.
How the Program Works
A cash assistance allotment is determined for each household based on family size and monthly income. For example, a household of three with a gross income of $1,050 or less per month could be eligible to receive $498 a month in cash assistance.
The program is specifically designed to assist a single-parent or a two-parent family, where one is disabled and unable to work. They must have at least one dependent. The program is also able to assist grandparents taking care of grandchildren because the parents are unable to do so. A person is only able to receive cash assistance for a maximum of 36 months throughout their entire life.
Those receiving cash assistance have access to the funds through an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card system. The program is designed to be flexible so recipients can withdraw cash to use for housing, transportation, food and other essential goods. The card can be used at retail stores for purchases and cash withdrawals.
Families receiving the benefit are enrolled in the Family Employment Program with the Department of Workforce Services. Through this program parents work with a staff person to participate in activities that prepare and lead them to employment.
Federal Guidelines and Restrictions
The federal government requires all states to maintain policies and practices as necessary to prevent TANF assistance from being used in liquor stores, casinos or gaming establishments, and adult-oriented entertainment establishments. Utah has blocked these type of merchants from accepting the EBT card for payment. States then have the ability to add additional prohibitions of items being purchased.
Historically, Utah has not added additional prohibitions because of the small number of households receiving cash assistance and what it would take financially to build a system to prevent purchases of non-essential items.
Concerns About Misuse of Funds
The Department of Workforce Services does not believe there to be a widespread misuse of funds with the cash assistance program. On average, just over 4,000 households are receiving cash assistance at this time.
It’s important to recognize those who are receiving this benefit. To be eligible for this program an individual must be a single-parent or a two-parent household, where one is disabled and unable to work, have little to no monthly income, and have at least one dependent. Families seeking this benefit are often in crisis and have, in many instances, experienced significant trauma in their lives. Parents are enrolled in the Family Employment Program where they are case managed.
Proposed Rule Change
It is believed that the costs associated with building and maintaining a system to prevent purchases of non-essential goods using cash assistance would be too high considering the small number of participants of the program. However, Workforce Services has reviewed the federal guidelines and state statute and determined that the department has rulemaking authority as the administrators of the program. Because of this, the department submitted a proposed rule change on Jan. 15, 2019 to the Utah Department of Administrative Services adding specific language to the rule prohibiting the purchase of beer, intoxicating beverages, cigarettes, or tobacco products. The rule will be posted on Feb. 2, 2019 and allow for public comment for 30 days.
This rule change will discourage recipients from using cash assistance on non-essential items, allow the department to better educate recipients on appropriate use and potentially implement sanctions if one is discovered to be misusing the benefit.
What Do You Do if You Suspect Misuse of Cash Assistance?
Because the program provides flexibility to the recipient in using cash to pay for basic living needs, it is difficult to detect misuse. In most cases, suspected misuse is reported by family members or friends close enough to observe the misuse or by a retailer observing a transaction and reporting it.
To report fraud or potential misuse of funds call 1-800-955-2210 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.