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State seeks comment on family assistance program

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is searching for public comment on the revision of the proposed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) State Plan.

The plan outlines how the state will run the program over the next three years. The TANF Block Grant is the major source of federal funding for a wide range of benefits, services and activities to assist in-need families with children. The TANF State Plan is required for North Carolina to receive TANF block grant funds.

For Stanly County to receive these funds, it must contribute a maintenance of effort, totaling more than $418,000. The federal government will contribute almost $450,000 if the plan is approved. 

Dolly Huffman Clayton, Stanly County social services director, believes the money from this grant is crucial for assisting families in the county. 

“The block grant money is spent on providing services to families with children,” Clayton said. “Our goal is to help all families move toward self-sufficiency.” 

Clayton said some of the grant is also used to pay the salaries of people working for Social Services. If funds are available, new positions are created to better assist families in the area. 

While one of the main goals of Social Services is to prevent children from entering foster care, Clayton said many services are offered for parents as well. The Department of Social Services provides training programs to parents to help them obtain jobs. In these programs, they can learn skills such as resume writing and interviewing. 

“We’re helping them get jobs and helping them to gain the skills to become employable,” Clayton said. 

Part of the TANF Block Grant is also used to fund transportation and emergency assistance services offered by DSS. When a family has an emergency expense, such as rent or utilities, they can reach out to Social Services to cover it. Families are only permitted to use this benefit once. 

According to Clayton, most people support the TANF Block Grant. However, there are some who oppose the grant because they think people will abuse it. 

“People still see it as a welfare check,” Clayton said. “That’s because they don’t really understand what the program is for, how it’s designed and who benefits from it.”

There are 63 families receiving aid from Social Services in Stanly County. Of those families, 58 of them involve a relative caring for a child, instead of a parent. Clayton said the majority of the money from the grant goes toward helping them. With the grant, parents in the program receive a check every month to help pay for things like food, clothes and school supplies. 

“We want to help families be healthy, and keep families intact,” Stanly County social worker Marie Webb said. 

Webb has worked with Social Services for 19 years. She said one of the biggest problems she has seen is lack of resources. Webb said there is a shortage of mental health professionals to assist children, and inpatient drug treatment centers for parents. 

Webb believes conditions have gotten better for families in need that do not have severe substance abuse issues. However, she thinks families who are having trouble with drugs may not have a positive experience. 

“When you have families with substance abuse issues, it’s still very much a struggle for them,” Webb said. “They can have a difficult time getting through inpatient treatment and long-term substance abuse treatment.” 

Clayton said there is no other source of funding for these programs. If the grant were to be denied, the effects would be felt throughout the county and the state. While the grant is important to keep these programs intact, Clayton said there are other areas of DSS that could use more funding. 

“Daycare has a waiting list and child care has a waiting list,” Clayton said. “One of the hindrances for some of the families is the fact that daycare is so expensive that it doesn’t make financial sense for them to go to work because then their whole paycheck goes to pay the daycare bill.” 

Clayton said she recently asked the county to fund salaries for 13 new positions within Social Services. Instead of 13, three new hires were made. While she is grateful for the new positions, Clayton said there is a need for more. 

To learn more about the TANF Block Grant, visit https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/social-services/public-notices. The plan will be available for comment until Aug. 30.

Contact Evan Moore at 704-982-0816.