New Developments at DHHS

Improving opportunities for English language education among TANF participants

July 3, 2019

The Office for Family Independence (OFI) helps eligible Maine people to meet their basic needs while supporting their path to independence and employment. OFI provides eligibility for three major public assistance programs: MaineCare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The Department has initiated a change for TANF recipients, effective July 1, 2019, designed to facilitate English as a second language (ESL) education. Previously, TANF recipients who speak native languages other than English could take ESL education in addition to other work or training activities only after meeting the federal work participation requirements.  With this change, recipients will now have up to 12 months after their enrollment date to take ESL classes, and this education will count towards meeting the hourly work requirements.

The social challenges for TANF recipients with little to no English skills are well documented, from barriers to higher education, with many colleges/universities requiring four years of high school English for entry into a degree program, to challenges with attaining and sustaining employment. In Maine, the top five native languages for TANF recipients, excluding English, are Portuguese, Arabic, Swahili, French and Afrosomali.

With this this change, the Department of Health and Human Services is acknowledging and prioritizing a critical skill for TANF recipients who are looking to successfully start a new life that establishes a path to employment and self-sufficiency.