NC shutting down Work First

Posted October 14, 2013
Updated October 15, 2013

— More needy families in North Carolina will begin feeling the pinch of the shutdown Monday, as the state suspends its Work First program, a federally funded program also known as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).

State Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Julie Henry confirmed that, as of Monday, DHHS has instructed county offices that "no new approved applications for Work First should be processed because of the unavailability of federal funds."

The short-term assistance program is designed to help families stay off welfare by supplying limited cash benefits, child care, food stamps and Medicaid for up to three months.

In September, the cash assistance payments for Work First totaled almost $4.8 million. More than 20,700 people were served by the program statewide last month, including 13,761 children.

North Carolina is the only state in the country shuttering its program. 

Henry said the freeze includes applications pending as of Monday, as well as re-certifications for November. While most program beneficiaries have already received their October checks, she said," If you are on Work First now, you should not expect to get a check in November if the federal shutdown continues."

People can continue to apply for TANF benefits, Henry stressed, adding that most counties have enough administrative money left to keep the doors open.

"We’re working with our federal dollars," Henry said. "We just we don’t have the funds for the Work First."

All other states and the District of Columbia have opted to continue their programs so far, using state funds and anticipating federal reimbursement.

Work First sign Reimbursement pledge not enough for NC to keep program going

A Sept. 30 letter from the federal Office for Family Assistance urges states to keep TANF open, saying any needed expenditures will be paid back once the shutdown has ended.    

"Allowable expenditures jurisdictions make between October 1, 2013, and the date that an extension is enacted would be eligible for reimbursement with federal TANF or CCDF (Child Care and Development Fund) funds made available under an extension, unless Congress specifies otherwise," the letter from Acting Assistant Secretary George Shelton reads in part..

"Once there is legislation extending the funding, and provided Congress does not specify otherwise, a TANF expenditure could qualify either for federal reimbursement or to count as a maintenance-of-effort expenditure, and the state, DC, and territory will be permitted to choose whether to receive reimbursement or count the expenditure toward satisfying its maintenance-of-effort requirement," the letter says.

Henry said the letter was not a sufficient guarantee of repayment. 

"From our perspective, the offer that was made about possible reimbursement was not a definitive enough commitment about reimbursement for us to count on that," Henry said. 

She couldn't comment on why other states viewed it differently. 

Democratic Congressmen David Price, G.K. Butterfield and Mel Watt sent Gov. Pat McCrory a letter Tuesday urging him to continue operating TANF during the shutdown, noting that the reimbursement guarantee was "good enough for 49 other states."

Alexandra Sirota, executive director of the left-leaning North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, says it would be extremely unlikely for members of Congress to vote not to pay their states back once the impasse is over. 

Sirota compared the decision to stop the program to last week's decision to stop offering WIC benefits. North Carolina was the only state to halt issuing food vouchers for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program. That decision was abruptly reversed Thursday evening after media inquiries about it.

"North Carolina is the only state that’s doing this," Sirota said. "This isn’t a necessary course of action." 

Critics of the decision say the state's $650 million "rainy-day fund" could easily cover a short-term loan to Work First.

Earlier in October, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said she would halt TANF benefits in her state but quickly reversed her decision after a public outcry.


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  • ecu4me2 Oct 19, 2013

    Might be harsh but NC is going to get a reputation its not a free loader state and the roles will shrink. There is a net work on which states are best to live off of. we just don't want to be one of them while truly taking care of the needy...

  • jaybird2974 Oct 17, 2013

    But they can pay to keep the Smoky Mountain Park open....I guess the kids are not that important as the Park. Go figure GOP.

  • healls Oct 16, 2013

    And if it is called Work First, why doesn't it list work as one of the things it provides?

    There IS a component of the program that requires recipients to get a job or receive some type of job training/go to school. They aren't allowed to just stay on it forever and not do anything. It's been this way since about the mid-1990's. A person can also only receive benefits for five years TOTAL over their entire lifetime. Anyone interested in learning more can access this information at NC DHHS' website (ncdhhs.gov, Families and Adults tab)and finding "Work First" under Programs and Services.

  • glarg Oct 16, 2013

    "Critics of the decision say the state's $650 million "rainy-day fund" could easily cover a short-term loan to Work First."


    You can barely get any money stored away before libs are ready to raid it.

  • Jack Flash Oct 16, 2013

    "Do you know anyone in the US that has starved to death? There are soup kitchens... there are food banks and churches. It is like beating a dead horse trying to explain real life to you. It is very simple. Giving these people a better life to sit on their rear ends watching cable tv vs. them to go work... does NOT help them. It only repeats this pitiful cycle."

    You want to accuse me of not knowing about real life, then go on to repeat the myth of lazy welfare cheats sitting around watching cable TV all day? Seriously? Let me guess: If poor people have more than one plate, fork, spoon, knife, and cup per person, more than a twin mattress on the floor per person (including separate mattresses for each lawfully wedded spouse b/c they shouldn't be having more kids), and can't account for productive use of every second of every day, they don't deserve our help? If they ever smile, they should return a dollar of someone's taxes?

  • theblazer Oct 16, 2013

    "Henry said the letter was not a sufficient guarantee of repayment. " NC is now a bank that hates poor people. Where are all the good christians out there?.... Hypocrites they are.

    No, they just believe it's an individual responsibility to help less fortunate people or those who have come on hard times. They do not believe the government needs to steal from them to give to others. Private organizations are far more successful and cost effective.

  • doctorgraves71 Oct 16, 2013

    "Henry said the letter was not a sufficient guarantee of repayment. " NC is now a bank that hates poor people. Where are all the good christians out there?.... Hypocrites they are.

  • Vote for Pedro Oct 15, 2013

    North Carolina "First To Be Last in Everything." You can't beat that record.

    Sad but true. Good slogan though:-)

  • billfranrichardson Oct 15, 2013

    i am just weighing in on this, but, how many people could be helped with the Governor did not have his bathroom upgrades! Where is the sense of priorities of this governor and his greedy party members?

  • Rebelyell55 Oct 15, 2013

    I don't blame em for not trusting the goverment. We'll see what happens come Thursday. I'm betting there will be a lot of Old people, disable, and veterns that don't get a check come first of Nov.