TANF at 20: The Need to Strengthen TANF for Families in Poverty
August 26th, 2016
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, established 20 years ago, was created as a safety net program to help low-income families achieve self-sufficiency through cash assistance and employment and job training opportunities. However, by and large, TANF’s role as a safety net program in the Mid South states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee has done little to help families in poverty or to help parents prepare for or connect to work.
TANF’s role as a safety net has weakened over time.
Nationally, TANF’s role as a safety net program has weakened over time, leaving many low-income families and children without help. From 1995-96, for every 100 poor families with children, 68 families received cash aid from TANF. However, the number of low-income families (states determine income eligibility; in Mississippi, the gross monthly income limit for a family of three is currently $680), receiving TANF benefits declined to only 23 families for every 100 poor families in 2013-14.
In the Mid South states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, families receiving TANF are among the lowest in the country. Fewer than 10 out of every 100 poor families in these states receive any cash assistance from TANF to help them make ends meet.
TANF benefit levels in the Mid South are below 12 percent of the poverty line ($1,674 per month for a family of three), and are now more than 23 percent below, in inflation-adjusted value, what they were in 1996 (an average of $200 for a sing-parent family of three). For the limited number of families that manage to get on TANF, those families remain extremely poor. For example, Mississippi’s monthly benefit of $170 for a family of three provides $1.83 per person per day in a 31-day month. Tennessee’s monthly benefit of $185 for a family of three provides $1.99 per person per day in a 31-day month.
TANF does little to help improve recipients’ employability.
A primary goal of TANF is to connect parents to work through employment and training activities. However, some states in the Mid South do little to help prepare TANF recipients for the labor market.
In Arkansas and Tennessee, spending on work-related activities or job preparation makes up only 14 percent of total state and federal TANF funding. Louisiana’s spending on employment and training activities only makes up 3 percent of total state and federal TANF funding (5 percentage points below the national average), while Mississippi’s spending on work-related activities and training makes up 46 percent of its total TANF funding. See Chart.
State TANF programs often do not provide skill training for the needs of employers in today’s economy or connect those – with the greatest barriers to employment – to job opportunities that increase their chances of escaping poverty.
Twenty years after its inception, many have highlighted the need to strengthen TANF as an effective safety net for disadvantaged families and their children. As conversations continue, it is important that TANF programs consider the needs of low-income families by ensuring that adequate resources are available for low-income families to achieve greater self-sufficiency.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (August 5, 2016). Chart book: TANF at 20. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/chart-book-tanf-at-20
Floyd, I., & Schott, L. (October 15, 2015). TANF cash benefits have fallen by more than 20 percent in most states and continue to erode. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/tanf-cash-benefits-have-fallen-by-more-than-20-percent-in-most-states
Pavetti, L., & Schott, L. (August 15, 2016). TANF at 20: Time to create a program that supports work and helps families meet their basic needs. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/tanf-at-20-time-to-create-a-program-that-supports-work-and-helps