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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday announced a $175 million pilot program intended to help needy families become self-sufficient.

The Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative will provide $25 million to seven nonprofits across the state. Over the next three years, the effectiveness of each pilot program will be evaluated by a third party. The state will then help the most successful programs scale up.

The money for the pilot comes from a $775 million surplus in state funds from a federal welfare program for families with children. The large surplus came under scrutiny after it was flagged in 2019 in a report by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative think tank. The report found Tennessee received $190.9 million in 2018 through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families but spent only $71.1 million.

At a Thursday news conference, Department of Human Services Commissioner Clarence Carter praised the legislature for resisting the urge to quickly spend the surplus without a plan. He called the pilot program a "bold experiment to transform the way our safety net serves vulnerable Tennesseans."

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