When Tennessee became a state in 1796, the administration of “poor relief” became a county duty and was placed in a court system which extended into the most remote sections of each county. In 1827, new legislation allowed the counties to establish almshouses to provide for the poor and any other persons who could not care for themselves because of disability or incompetence.
In 1925, the Welfare Division in the state Department of Institutions was created. The Tennessee State Relief Administration was organized in 1933 and later changed into the Tennessee Welfare Commission. It further evolved into the Department of Institutions and Public Welfare and then the Department of Public Welfare. In May 1975, the agency’s name changed to the Department of Human Services.
In September 1996, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, created through the Social Security Act of 1935, was replaced with a new federal welfare reform program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Tennessee’s TANF program is called Families First. In June 2000, the state’s Child Care Reform Bill was signed into law. Aimed at improving the health and safety of children and the quality of child care programs, reforms include lower adult/child ratios at child care centers and mandatory criminal background checks for operators, employees, and others involved with facilities.
In July 2002, DHS became the state agency responsible for determining TennCare eligibility. In January 2005, the department created a new division of Appeals and Hearings and began hearing TennCare eligibility appeals. In addition, this division handles appeals for other Family Assistance programs, Child Support and Vocational Rehabilitation.
In November 2004, the first Family Assistance Service Center began operations. The Service Centers are a network of three service centers—one in each grand division of the state—that take calls from individuals enrolled in the TennCare/ Medicaid, Food Stamp and Families First programs. Each center employs an average of 70 workers, primarily eligibility counselors, who assist clients with questions on their cases, make changes to cases and set up appointments with counselors in the county offices. Average call volume for the network ranges from 4,000 to 8,000 calls a day.