2006 Regular Session
To: Public Health and Human Services; Appropriations
By: Representative Fillingane
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 43-17-5, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REQUIRE PARENTS AND CARETAKER RELATIVES APPLYING FOR OR RECEIVING TANF BENEFITS TO TAKE A LITERACY TEST TO DETERMINE IF THEY ARE FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE BEFORE THEY WILL BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE OR CONTINUE RECEIVING TANF BENEFITS; TO PROVIDE THAT IF A PERSON IS DETERMINED NOT TO BE FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE AFTER TAKING THE LITERACY TEST, THE PERSON MUST ENROLL IN AND ATTEND A LITERACY PROGRAM IN ORDER TO RECEIVE OR CONTINUE RECEIVING TANF BENEFITS; TO PROVIDE THAT ANY PERSON WHO IS DETERMINED NOT TO BE FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE AND WHO REFUSES OR FAILS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LITERACY PROGRAM SHALL HAVE HIS OR HER TANF BENEFITS TERMINATED FOR CERTAIN TIME PERIODS; TO PROVIDE THAT ANY PERSON WHO HAS BEEN DETERMINED NOT TO BE FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE MAY RETAKE THE LITERACY TEST AT ANY TIME; TO PROVIDE THAT ANY PERSON WHOSE TANF BENEFITS WERE TERMINATED UNDER THIS ACT WHO RETAKES THE LITERACY TEST AND IS DETERMINED TO BE FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE SHALL BE ELIGIBLE FOR TANF BENEFITS AGAIN; TO PROVIDE THAT THE LITERACY TEST REQUIRED BY THIS ACT SHALL BE DESIGNED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND PROVIDED TO THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES; TO PROVIDE THAT THE LITERACY PROGRAM PROVIDED FOR UNDER THIS ACT SHALL BE ADMINISTERED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, AND ANY PERSON DETERMINED NOT TO BE FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE MAY ATTEND THE LITERACY PROGRAM AT NO CHARGE; TO PROVIDE THAT THE LITERACY PROGRAM SHALL BE FUNDED WITH TANF FUNDS RECEIVED BY THE STATE OR WITH STATE MAINTENANCE-OF-EFFORT FUNDS UNDER THE TANF PROGRAM, OR BOTH, AS ALLOWED UNDER FEDERAL LAW; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 43-17-5, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
43-17-5. (1) The amount of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits which may be granted for any dependent child and a needy caretaker relative shall be determined by the county department with due regard to the resources and necessary expenditures of the family and the conditions existing in each case, and in accordance with the rules and regulations made by the Department of Human Services which shall not be less than the Standard of Need in effect for 1988, and shall be sufficient when added to all other income (except that any income specified in the federal Social Security Act, as amended, may be disregarded) and support available to the child to provide such child with a reasonable subsistence compatible with decency and health. The first family member in the dependent child's budget may receive an amount not to exceed One Hundred Ten Dollars ($110.00) per month; the second family member in the dependent child's budget may receive an amount not to exceed Thirty-six Dollars ($36.00) per month; and each additional family member in the dependent child's budget an amount not to exceed Twenty-four Dollars ($24.00) per month. The maximum for any individual family member in the dependent child's budget may be exceeded for foster or medical care or in cases of mentally retarded or physically handicapped children. TANF benefits granted shall be specifically limited only (a) to children existing or conceived at the time the caretaker relative initially applies and qualifies for such assistance, unless this limitation is specifically waived by the department, or (b) to a child born following a twelve (12) consecutive month period of discontinued benefits by the caretaker relative.
(2) TANF cash benefits in Mississippi shall be provided by monthly checks mailed to the recipient family until such time as an on-line electronic benefits transfer system for TANF benefit payments is implemented pursuant to Section 43-1-28.
(3) The Department of Human Services shall deny TANF benefits to the following categories of individuals, except for individuals and families specifically exempt or excluded for good cause as allowed by federal statute or regulation:
(a) Families without a minor child residing with the custodial parent or other adult caretaker relative of the child;
(b) Families which include an adult who has received TANF assistance for sixty (60) months after the commencement of the Mississippi TANF program, whether or not such period of time is consecutive;
(c) Families not assigning to the state any rights a family member may have, on behalf of the family member or of any other person for whom the family member has applied for or is receiving such assistance, to support from any other person, as required by law;
(d) Families who fail to cooperate in establishing paternity or obtaining child support, as required by law;
(e) Any individual who has not attained eighteen (18) years of age, is not married to the head of household, has a minor child at least twelve (12) weeks of age in his or her care, and has not successfully completed a high school education or its equivalent, if such individual does not participate in educational activities directed toward the attainment of a high school diploma or its equivalent, or an alternative educational or training program approved by the department;
(f) Any individual who has not attained eighteen (18) years of age, is not married, has a minor child in his or her care, and does not reside in a place or residence maintained by a parent, legal guardian or other adult relative or the individual as such parent's, guardian's or adult relative's own home;
(g) Any minor child who has been, or is expected by a parent or other caretaker relative of the child to be, absent from the home for a period of more than thirty (30) days;
(h) Any individual who is a parent or other caretaker relative of a minor child who fails to notify the department of the absence of the minor child from the home for the thirty-day period specified in paragraph (g), by the end of the five-day period that begins with the date that it becomes clear to the individual that the minor child will be absent for the thirty-day period;
(i) Any individual who fails to comply with the provisions of the Employability Development Plan signed by the individual which prescribe those activities designed to help the individual become and remain employed, or to participate satisfactorily in the assigned work activity, as authorized under subsection (6)(c) and (d);
(j) A parent or caretaker relative who has not engaged in an allowable work activity once the department determines the parent or caretaker relative is ready to engage in work, or once the parent or caretaker relative has received TANF assistance under the program for twenty-four (24) months, whether or not consecutive, whichever is earlier;
(k) Any individual who is fleeing to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement after conviction, under the laws of the jurisdiction from which the individual flees, for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, which is a felony under the laws of the place from which the individual flees, or who is violating a condition of probation or parole imposed under federal or state law;
(l) Aliens who are not qualified under federal law;
(m) For a period of ten (10) years following conviction, individuals convicted in federal or state court of having made a fraudulent statement or representation with respect to the individual's place of residence in order to receive TANF, food stamps or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance under Title XVI or Title XIX simultaneously from two (2) or more states; * * *
(n) Individuals who are recipients of federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance; and
(o) A parent or caretaker relative applying for or receiving TANF assistance who is determined not to be functionally literate after taking a literacy test, and who does not participate in a literacy program as required under subsection (12) of this section.
(4) (a) Any person who is otherwise eligible for TANF benefits, including custodial and noncustodial parents, shall be required to attend school and meet the monthly attendance requirement as provided in this subsection if all of the following apply:
(i) The person is under age twenty (20);
(ii) The person has not graduated from a public or private high school or obtained a GED equivalent;
(iii) The person is physically able to attend school and is not excused from attending school; and
(iv) If the person is a parent or caretaker relative with whom a dependent child is living, child care is available for the child.
The monthly attendance requirement under this subsection shall be attendance at the school in which the person is enrolled for each day during a month that the school conducts classes in which the person is enrolled, with not more than two (2) absences during the month for reasons other than the reasons listed in paragraph (e)(iv) of this subsection. Persons who fail to meet participation requirements in this subsection shall be subject to sanctions as provided in paragraph (f) of this subsection.
(b) As used in this subsection, "school" means any one (1) of the following:
(i) A school as defined in Section 37-13-91(2);
(ii) A vocational, technical and adult education program; or
(iii) A course of study meeting the standards established by the State Department of Education for the granting of a declaration of equivalency of high school graduation.
(c) If any compulsory-school-age child, as defined in Section 37-13-91(2), to which TANF eligibility requirements apply is not in compliance with the compulsory school attendance requirements of Section 37-13-91(6), the superintendent of schools of the school district in which the child is enrolled or eligible to attend shall notify the county department of human services of the child's noncompliance. The Department of Human Services shall review school attendance information as provided under this paragraph at all initial eligibility determinations and upon subsequent report of unsatisfactory attendance.
(d) The signature of a person on an application for TANF benefits constitutes permission for the release of school attendance records for that person or for any child residing with that person. The department shall request information from the child's school district about the child's attendance in the school district's most recently completed semester of attendance. If information about the child's previous school attendance is not available or cannot be verified, the department shall require the child to meet the monthly attendance requirement for one (1) semester or until the information is obtained. The department shall use the attendance information provided by a school district to verify attendance for a child. The department shall review with the parent or caretaker relative a child's claim that he or she has a good cause for not attending school.
A school district shall provide information to the department about the attendance of a child who is enrolled in a public school in the district within five (5) working days of the receipt of a written request for such information from the department. The school district shall define how many hours of attendance count as a full day and shall provide that information, upon request, to the department. In reporting attendance, the school district may add partial days' absence together to constitute a full day's absence.
(e) A child who is required to attend school to meet the requirements under this subsection shall comply except when there is good cause, which shall be demonstrated by any of the following circumstances:
(i) The minor parent is the caretaker of a child less than twelve (12) weeks old; or
(ii) The department determines that child care services are necessary for the minor parent to attend school and there is no child care available; or
(iii) The child is prohibited by the school district from attending school and an expulsion is pending. This exemption no longer applies once the teenager has been expelled; however, a teenager who has been expelled and is making satisfactory progress towards obtaining a GED equivalent shall be eligible for TANF benefits; or
(iv) The child failed to attend school for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Illness, injury or incapacity of the child or the minor parent's child;
2. Court-required appearances or temporary incarceration;
3. Medical or dental appointments for the child or minor parent's child;
4. Death of a close relative;
5. Observance of a religious holiday;
6. Family emergency;
7. Breakdown in transportation;
8. Suspension; or
9. Any other circumstance beyond the control of the child, as defined in regulations of the department.
(f) Upon determination that a child has failed without good cause to attend school as required, the department shall provide written notice to the parent or caretaker relative (whoever is the primary recipient of the TANF benefits) that specifies:
(i) That the family will be sanctioned in the next possible payment month because the child who is required to attend school has failed to meet the attendance requirement of this subsection;
(ii) The beginning date of the sanction, and the child to whom the sanction applies;
(iii) The right of the child's parents or caretaker relative (whoever is the primary recipient of the TANF benefits) to request a fair hearing under this subsection.
The child's parent or caretaker relative (whoever is the primary recipient of the TANF benefits) may request a fair hearing on the department's determination that the child has not been attending school. If the child's parents or caretaker relative does not request a fair hearing under this subsection, or if, after a fair hearing has been held, the hearing officer finds that the child without good cause has failed to meet the monthly attendance requirement, the department shall discontinue or deny TANF benefits to the child thirteen (13) years old, or older, in the next possible payment month. The department shall discontinue or deny twenty-five percent (25%) of the family grant when a child six (6) through twelve (12) years of age without good cause has failed to meet the monthly attendance requirement. Both the child and family sanction may apply when children in both age groups fail to meet the attendance requirement without good cause. A sanction applied under this subsection shall be effective for one (1) month for each month that the child failed to meet the monthly attendance requirement. In the case of a dropout, the sanction shall remain in force until the parent or caretaker relative provides written proof from the school district that the child has reenrolled and met the monthly attendance requirement for one (1) calendar month. Any month in which school is in session for at least ten (10) days during the month may be used to meet the attendance requirement under this subsection. This includes attendance at summer school. The sanction shall be removed the next possible payment month.
(5) All parents or caretaker relatives shall have their dependent children receive vaccinations and booster vaccinations against those diseases specified by the State Health Officer pursuant to Section 41-23-37 in accordance with the vaccination and booster vaccination schedule prescribed by the State Health Officer for children of that age, in order for the parents or caretaker relatives to be eligible or remain eligible to receive TANF benefits. Proof of having received such vaccinations and booster vaccinations shall be given by presenting the certificates of vaccination issued by any health care provider licensed to administer vaccinations, and submitted on forms specified by the State Board of Health. If the parents without good cause do not have their dependent children receive the vaccinations and booster vaccinations as required by this subsection and they fail to comply after thirty (30) days' notice, the department shall sanction the family's TANF benefits by twenty-five percent (25%) for the next payment month and each subsequent payment month until the requirements of this subsection are met.
(6) (a) If the parent or caretaker relative applying for TANF assistance is an employable person, as determined by the Department of Human Services, the person shall be required to engage in an allowable work activity once the department determines the parent or caretaker relative is ready to engage in work, or once the parent or caretaker relative has received TANF assistance under the program for twenty-four (24) months, whether or not consecutive, whichever is earlier. No TANF benefits shall be given to any person to whom this section applies who fails without good cause to comply with the Employability Development Plan prepared by the department for the person, or who has refused to accept a referral or offer of employment, training or education in which he or she is able to engage, subject to the penalties prescribed in subsection (6)(e). A person shall be deemed to have refused to accept a referral or offer of employment, training or education if he or she:
(i) Willfully fails to report for an interview with respect to employment when requested to do so by the department; or
(ii) Willfully fails to report to the department the result of a referral to employment; or
(iii) Willfully fails to report for allowable work activities as prescribed in subsection (6)(c) and (d).
(b) The Department of Human Services shall operate a statewide work program for TANF recipients to provide work activities and supportive services to enable families to become self-sufficient and improve their competitive position in the work force in accordance with the requirements of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-193), as amended, and the regulations promulgated thereunder. All adults who are not specifically exempt shall be referred by the department for allowable work activities. An adult may be exempt from the mandatory work activity requirement for the following reasons:
(ii) Temporary illness or injury, verified by physician's certificate;
(iii) Is in the third trimester of pregnancy, verified by physician's certificate;
(iv) Caretaker of a child under twelve (12) months, for not more than twelve (12) months of the sixty-month maximum benefit period;
(v) Caretaker of an ill or incapacitated person, as verified by physician's certificate;
(vi) Age, if over sixty (60) or under eighteen (18) years of age;
(vii) Receiving treatment for substance abuse, if the person is in compliance with the substance abuse treatment plan;
(viii) In a two-parent family, the caretaker of a severely disabled child, as verified by a physician's certificate; or
(ix) History of having been a victim of domestic violence, which has been reported as required by state law and is substantiated by police reports or court records, and being at risk of further domestic violence, shall be exempt for a period as deemed necessary by the department but not to exceed a total of twelve (12) months, which need not be consecutive, in the sixty-month maximum benefit period. For the purposes of this subparagraph (ix), "domestic violence" means that an individual has been subjected to:
1. Physical acts that resulted in, or threatened to result in, physical injury to the individual;
2. Sexual abuse;
3. Sexual activity involving a dependent child;
4. Being forced as the caretaker relative of a dependent child to engage in nonconsensual sexual acts or activities;
5. Threats of, or attempts at, physical or sexual abuse;
6. Mental abuse; or
7. Neglect or deprivation of medical care.
(c) For all families, all adults who are not specifically exempt shall be required to participate in work activities for at least the minimum average number of hours per week specified by federal law or regulation, not fewer than twenty (20) hours per week (thirty-five (35) hours per week for two-parent families) of which are attributable to the following allowable work activities:
(i) Unsubsidized employment;
(ii) Subsidized private employment;
(iii) Subsidized public employment;
(iv) Work experience (including work associated with the refurbishing of publicly assisted housing), if sufficient private employment is not available;
(v) On-the-job training;
(vi) Job search and job readiness assistance consistent with federal TANF regulations;
(vii) Community service programs;
(viii) Vocational educational training (not to exceed twelve (12) months with respect to any individual);
(ix) The provision of child care services to an individual who is participating in a community service program;
(x) Satisfactory attendance at high school or in a course of study leading to a high school equivalency certificate, for heads of household under age twenty (20) who have not completed high school or received such certificate;
(xi) Education directly related to employment, for heads of household under age twenty (20) who have not completed high school or received such equivalency certificate.
(d) The following are allowable work activities which may be attributable to hours in excess of the minimum specified in subsection (6)(c):
(i) Job skills training directly related to employment;
(ii) Education directly related to employment for individuals who have not completed high school or received a high school equivalency certificate;
(iii) Satisfactory attendance at high school or in a course of study leading to a high school equivalency, for individuals who have not completed high school or received such equivalency certificate;
(iv) Job search and job readiness assistance consistent with federal TANF regulations.
(e) If any adult or caretaker relative refuses to participate in allowable work activity as required under this subsection (6), the following full family TANF benefit penalty will apply, subject to due process to include notification, conciliation and a hearing if requested by the recipient:
(i) For the first violation, the department shall terminate the TANF assistance otherwise payable to the family for a two-month period or until the person has complied with the required work activity, whichever is longer;
(ii) For the second violation, the department shall terminate the TANF assistance otherwise payable to the family for a six-month period or until the person has complied with the required work activity, whichever is longer;
(iii) For the third violation, the department shall terminate the TANF assistance otherwise payable to the family for a twelve-month period or until the person has complied with the required work activity, whichever is longer;
(iv) For the fourth violation, the person shall be permanently disqualified.
For a two-parent family, unless prohibited by state or federal law, Medicaid assistance shall be terminated only for the person whose failure to participate in allowable work activity caused the family's TANF assistance to be sanctioned under this subsection (6)(e), unless an individual is pregnant, but shall not be terminated for any other person in the family who is meeting that person's applicable work requirement or who is not required to work. Minor children shall continue to be eligible for Medicaid benefits regardless of the disqualification of their parent or caretaker relative for TANF assistance under this subsection (6), unless prohibited by state or federal law.
(f) Any person enrolled in a two-year or four-year college program who meets the eligibility requirements to receive TANF benefits, and who is meeting the applicable work requirements and all other applicable requirements of the TANF program, shall continue to be eligible for TANF benefits while enrolled in the college program for as long as the person meets the requirements of the TANF program, unless prohibited by federal law.
(g) No adult in a work activity required under this subsection (6) shall be employed or assigned (i) when any other individual is on layoff from the same or any substantially equivalent job within six (6) months before the date of the TANF recipient's employment or assignment; or (ii) if the employer has terminated the employment of any regular employee or otherwise caused an involuntary reduction of its work force in order to fill the vacancy so created with an adult receiving TANF assistance. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security, established under Section 71-5-101, shall appoint one or more impartial hearing officers to hear and decide claims by employees of violations of this paragraph (g). The hearing officer shall hear all the evidence with respect to any claim made hereunder and such additional evidence as he may require and shall make a determination and the reason therefor. The claimant shall be promptly notified of the decision of the hearing officer and the reason therefor. Within ten (10) days after the decision of the hearing officer has become final, any party aggrieved thereby may secure judicial review thereof by commencing an action, in the circuit court of the county in which the claimant resides, against the department for the review of such decision, in which action any other party to the proceeding before the hearing officer shall be made a defendant. Any such appeal shall be on the record which shall be certified to the court by the department in the manner provided in Section 71-5-531, and the jurisdiction of the court shall be confined to questions of law which shall render its decision as provided in that section.
(7) The Department of Human Services may provide child care for eligible participants who require such care so that they may accept employment or remain employed. The department may also provide child care for those participating in the TANF program when it is determined that they are satisfactorily involved in education, training or other allowable work activities. The department may contract with Head Start agencies to provide child care services to TANF recipients. The department may also arrange for child care by use of contract or vouchers, provide vouchers in advance to a caretaker relative, reimburse a child care provider, or use any other arrangement deemed appropriate by the department, and may establish different reimbursement rates for child care services depending on the category of the facility or home. Any center-based or group home child care facility under this paragraph shall be licensed by the State Department of Health pursuant to law. When child care is being provided in the child's own home, in the home of a relative of the child, or in any other unlicensed setting, the provision of such child care may be monitored on a random basis by the Department of Human Services or the State Department of Health. Transitional child care assistance may be continued if it is necessary for parents to maintain employment once support has ended, unless prohibited under state or federal law. Transitional child care assistance may be provided for up to twenty-four (24) months after the last month during which the family was eligible for TANF assistance, if federal funds are available for such child care assistance.
(8) The Department of Human Services may provide transportation or provide reasonable reimbursement for transportation expenses that are necessary for individuals to be able to participate in allowable work activity under the TANF program.
(9) Medicaid assistance shall be provided to a family of TANF program participants for up to twenty-four (24) consecutive calendar months following the month in which the participating family would be ineligible for TANF benefits because of increased income, expiration of earned income disregards, or increased hours of employment of the caretaker relative; however, Medicaid assistance for more than twelve (12) months may be provided only if a federal waiver is obtained to provide such assistance for more than twelve (12) months and federal and state funds are available to provide such assistance.
(10) The department shall require applicants for and recipients of public assistance from the department to sign a personal responsibility contract that will require the applicant or recipient to acknowledge his or her responsibilities to the state.
(11) The department shall enter into an agreement with the State Personnel Board and other state agencies that will allow those TANF participants who qualify for vacant jobs within state agencies to be placed in state jobs. State agencies participating in the TANF work program shall receive any and all benefits received by employers in the private sector for hiring TANF recipients. This subsection (11) shall be effective only if the state obtains any necessary federal waiver or approval and if federal funds are available therefor.
(12) (a) Any parent or caretaker relative applying for TANF assistance who is over the age of eighteen (18) years but under the age of sixty-five (65) years must take a literacy test to determine if he or she is functionally literate, before the person will be eligible to receive TANF assistance. If the person is determined not to be functionally literate after taking the literacy test, the person must enroll in and attend a literacy program as provided in paragraph (e) in order to receive TANF assistance.
(b) Any parent or caretaker relative receiving TANF assistance who is over the age of eighteen (18) years but under the age of sixty-five (65) years must take a literacy test to determine if he or she is functionally literate, before the person will be eligible to continue receiving TANF assistance. If the person is determined not to be functionally literate after taking the literacy test, the person must enroll in and attend a literacy program as provided in paragraph (e) in order to continue receiving TANF assistance.
(c) Any person described in paragraph (b) who is determined not to be functionally literate after taking the literacy test and who refuses or fails to participate in the literacy program shall be subject to the following penalties after due process, which shall include notification, conciliation and a hearing if requested by the recipient:
(i) For the first violation, the department shall terminate the TANF assistance otherwise payable to the person for a two-month period or until the person begins participation in the literacy program, whichever is longer;
(ii) For the second violation, the department shall terminate the TANF assistance otherwise payable to the person for a six-month period or until the person begins participation in the literacy program, whichever is longer;
(iii) For the third violation, the department shall terminate the TANF assistance otherwise payable to the person for a twelve-month period or until the person begins participation in the literacy program, whichever is longer;
(iv) For the fourth violation, the person shall be permanently disqualified.
(d) Any person who has been determined not to be functionally literate after taking the literacy test may retake the literacy test at any time. Any person whose TANF assistance was terminated under paragraph (c) who retakes the literacy test and is determined to be functionally literate shall be eligible for TANF assistance again, notwithstanding any penalty periods in paragraph (c) to the contrary.
(e) The literacy test required by this subsection shall be designed by the State Department of Education and provided to the Department of Human Services. The literacy program provided for under this subsection shall be administered by the State Department of Education, and any person determined not to be functionally literate after taking the literacy test may attend the literacy program at no charge. The literacy program shall be funded with TANF funds received by the state or with state maintenance-of-effort funds under the TANF program, or both, as allowed under federal law.
(13) No new TANF program requirement or restriction affecting a person's eligibility for TANF assistance, or allowable work activity, which is not mandated by federal law or regulation may be implemented by the Department of Human Services after July 1, 2004, unless such is specifically authorized by an amendment to this section by the Legislature.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2006.