Tennessee lawmakers call out Department of Human Services for keeping $732M in surplus funds

Tennessee lawmakers call out Department of Human Services for keeping $732M in surplus funds
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, called out the Department of Human Services Friday for unused funds meant to help Tennessee's working poor. (Source: WMC)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Millions of dollars set aside to help Tennessee’s working poor are not being used.

The Tennessee Department of Human Service’s “Families First” Program has a surplus of $732 million.

In a news conference Friday, state lawmakers from Memphis called out DHS, saying those funds should be used or moved.

Families First is Tennessee’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, previously known as the welfare program. Families First is funded by federal grants and provides cash assistance, job training and child care assistance to families experiencing financial difficulty.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus raised concerns Friday, saying the $732 million should be spent.

“We want to make sure that the governor knows and understands that we need to free that money up, put that money to use so people’s quality of life can be improved,” said District 98 Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis.

Parkinson suggested that the extra money be used to help the homeless, for youth sports and to provide assistance to domestic violence victims.

But a DHS spokesman said the federal government has guidelines for how the money can be spent.

“It’s important to remember these TANF funds do have limitations,” said Sky Arnold. “The federal government requires that these funds must be used in accordance with the program’s four goals including: Providing assistance to needy families with children so that they can live in their own homes or the homes of relatives; ending dependence of needy parents on government benefits through work, job preparation, and marriage; reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and promoting the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.”

DHS also said that fewer people have been asking for state assistance because of the strong economy and that’s why it has extra money.

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators checked the numbers.

  • 40,914 Tennesseans received assistance through Families First in August 2019.
  • 157,468 Tennesseans received assistance through the program in August 2011.

DHS also said it is now giving families more money. A family of three can now receive $277 per month compared to last year when they would receive $185 per month.

The department also said that beginning last December, it began offering six months of transitional benefits for individuals on Families First whose wages increased making them ineligible but were still in need of support.

To be eligible for cash assistance from Families First, the family must have a dependent child and a gross income of 185 percent of the Consolidated Need Standard for the appropriate household size.

WMC Action News 5 is waiting for the number of people who have applied for the program and been rejected.

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