An argument has been made that work search requirements should be a prerequisite for people who need Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. As an advocate for the poor, I understand why that may sound good, but I can tell you why this is the wrong approach.

Many people who need TANF turn to the program in times of crisis, such as a mother fleeing a domestic violence situation with her children. Families in crisis would find it difficult, if not impossible, to apply for three jobs prior to getting the urgent help they need to pay the rent or cover the oil.

A work search requirement also ignores families’ circumstances. A 2010 study of TANF families found that the majority of people receiving assistance are eager to work, but face extraordinary barriers that make employment difficult. Nearly all TANF recipients have work experience, but that experience is typically in low-wage jobs with little job security and irregular hours.

Efforts are under way to help families leave TANF and become self-supporting. A new law, often called “Ticket to Work,” provides an assessment process to identify barriers to work and assist families in overcoming those barriers.

The proposed work search requirement ignores this new assessment process and the experience of other states, such as Pennsylvania and Georgia, where work search requirements have created barriers for low-income families. Many families have lost assistance with no evidence that this strategy helped them gain employment.

Withholding help from those who need it will mean more families go hungry, go without heat or find themselves homeless. As of August, TANF was helping 8,400 families in Maine, including 13,338 children. By addressing the barriers that stand in their way, these families will be able to leave poverty behind. That is the path toward true reform.

Sara Gagne-Holmes, Readfield