HHS’ Office for Civil Rights and Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Sign Voluntary Compliance Agreement

Health newsHealth & Medical News › Race and Disability Discrimination Complaints in Wisconsin TANF Program to be Resolved by Statewide Agreement

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Race and Disability Discrimination Complaints in Wisconsin TANF Program to be Resolved by Statewide Agreement

Under a new agreement between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), more Wisconsin families seeking short-term financial assistance while aiming to return to work will have an equal opportunity to participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, regardless of race, color, national origin or disability. The Wisconsin TANF program, known as the W-2 program, offers trial jobs, assisted employment, job training, and cash grants.

Pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, DCF will ensure that sanctions (or percentage reductions to cash grants) are not applied to TANF participants in a discriminatory manner based on race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency). Similarly, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, DCF will screen and assess TANF applicants and participants to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations or program modifications to meaningfully participate in the W-2 program.

“The TANF program plays a critically important role as the safety net for America’s families," said OCR Director Georgina Verdugo. “This voluntary compliance agreement between OCR and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is a model for states in preventing unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or disability and providing equal access to the TANF program.”
DCF entered into the agreement following an OCR investigation of complaints filed by Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, and the Milwaukee Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The complaints alleged that DCF and its predecessor agency, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, discriminated on the basis of race and disability in the administration of the W-2 program.

The allegations of race discrimination were evidenced, in part, by the “Wisconsin Works (W-2) Sanctions Study,” a report prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in 2004. The report found that for a three year period in the Wisconsin TANF program, there were significant racial disparities in sanction rates for alleged failures to comply with program requirements. Latino program participants and African-American program participants both were sanctioned at a higher rate than white program participants.

There are 38 W-2 agencies in Wisconsin, consisting of a mix of private (for-profit or non-profit) and public (county government) agencies serving over 20,000 families annually. As a result of the agreement with OCR, DCF will formally define what activities can be sanctioned; ensure that sanctions are not imposed based on a participant’s race, color, or national origin; and identify and implement best practices to prevent and address discrimination in sanctioning.

Under the agreement, DCF will ensure that W-2 agencies and contractors conduct informal assessments to identify individuals with disabilities, offer such individuals the opportunity to be assessed with a validated screening tool designed to uncover barriers to normal functioning in employment settings, and offer further formal assessment by a professional, when informal assessment or screening indicates a need for additional evaluation. DCF also will review and modify, as necessary, its policy and procedure manuals, train all W-2 agency staff and contractors on applicable federal laws and the changes in W-2 policies and procedures, and monitor W-2 agency staff and contractors for compliance.
Copies of the Voluntary Compliance Agreement and the “Wisconsin Works (W-2) Sanctions Study,” can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/index.html. For additional resources on preventing and addressing discrimination against TANF applicants and participants, see http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/tanf/index.html.

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services News Release

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