The ACT—RER Choices pilot consisted of five features designed to emphasize the temporary nature of cash assistance and the need for participants to obtain work to gain independence: (1) several changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligibility rules, (2) a Personal Responsibility Agreement (PRA), (3) time-limits for benefit receipt, (4) transitional Medicaid and child care benefits, and (5) access to workforce development centers.
The ACT—RER Choices pilot was one of the demonstration projects made possible by Section 1115 waivers to the rules in effect at the time for the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. These Section 1115 waivers allowed states to test new approaches to advance the objectives of the AFDC program. The ACT waiver was one of the last AFDC waivers granted before the implementation of the TANF program.
The first feature of the ACT—RER Choices pilot was to expand TANF eligibility rules and provisions to include the following:
- a disregard of children’s earnings and resources in the calculation of family benefits;
- increased resource limits for eligibility determination;
- elimination of the work history requirement;
- elimination of the 100-hour work rule for TANF-Unemployed Parent families, in which recipients were eligible only as long as the main wage earner worked fewer than 100 hours per month;
- a change in the age of youngest child exemption for families participating in Choices; and
- an increase in transitional Medicaid and child care from 12 months to 18 months for caretakers and second parents who were exempt from Choices but volunteered.
Second, ACT—RER Choices also required the adoption of a PRA, which formalized families’ intention to comply with the following activities:
- child support and paternity establishment efforts;
- regular Texas Health Steps screenings for children;
- immunization requirements;
- school attendance policies; and
- parenting skills training classes (if referred).
Under the PRA, parents could not voluntarily quit a paying job of at least 30 hours per week and needed to refrain from selling or abusing illegal or controlled substances. Clients who failed to participate in PRA requirements could receive a financial penalty.
Third, ACT—RER Choices enacted time limits for the receipt of cash assistance. TANF recipients were subject to one of three time limits for benefit receipt (12, 24, or 36 months) based on a tiered system that classified participants according to their educational attainment and work history.
Fourth, participants also received transitional Medicaid and child care benefits after reaching time limits.
Finally, localities in the ACT—RER Choices pilot also operated a TANF workforce development program that served participants. The total length of services for ACT—RER Choices was two to four years.
ACT—RER Choices was implemented in the following Texas localities: Beaumont, Odessa, the Dillon office in Corpus Christi, and Clint. The Choices program was a part of the ACT demonstration that operated from 1996 through 2002 and that also piloted ACT—RER No Choices and ACT Time Limits.