Akin Gump/Legal Aid Launch TANF Outreach Project
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Jennifer Mezey

Jennifer Mezey

Legal Aid is partnering with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to expand our outreach to recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) who are being sanctioned for reasons that may be inappropriate.  We are pleased to announce that today our TANF Sanction Project begins its public phase with the launch of its telephone hotline housed at the firm and staffed by their attorneys.

Legal Aid has long struggled with how to challenge individual TANF sanctions (receiving a reduced benefit) and work for systemic changes in the way sanctions are imposed.  TANF recipients are by definition vulnerable families with very few resources and many hardships.  The same factors that limit their ability to comply with TANF work and child support requirements –disability, domestic violence, illness of a child, low literacy, and homelessness – also make it difficult for them to seek legal representation and maintain contact with an attorney. 

We believe that many of these beneficiaries could qualify for good cause exemptions based on the challenges with which they are struggling.  We strongly suspect that many TANF recipients are unaware of their rights to claim good cause, have been unable to do so because of the challenges they are facing in their lives or have been wrongfully denied good cause when they have requested it. 

The hotline (202-887-4170) is part of a broader project that also includes outreach to caseworkers at other social service agencies in the District.  These outreach efforts provide the opportunity to educate those who work with this client population about TANF rules and the challenges we have seen with sanctions.  The hotline is an integral support for the trainings so that caseworkers can refer TANF recipients to us when appropriate. 

An individual who calls the hotline will speak to a volunteer or leave a message that the volunteer will return.  (The hotline will accept messages 24 hours a day and on weekends.  Calls will be returned during business hours.)  If the caller isn’t calling about a TANF sanction, they will be referred to appropriate legal services providers that may be able to help them with their problem.  If the individual has (or appears to have) a TANF sanction that they want to challenge, Legal Aid and Akin Gump will work together to try to serve that individual through a range of possible services from advice to full representation at a fair hearing or other proceeding depending on the individual case and our capacity.

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