TANF Reauthorization

Dec 02, 2011

Bill to reauthorize TANF cites reducing child poverty as primary goal, highlights current inadequacy of program

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

State cash assistance programs funded through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant have responded unevenly to rising need. 

While the number of families receiving help rose sharply in some states during the recent recession and after, other states' caseloads rose only modestly or even declined. Several states have even cut their TANF benefits or shortened time limits due to revenue shortfalls and the expiration of the TANF Emergency Fund in September 2010. These cuts have been driven by the nature of the TANF block grant, which has not been adjusted for inflation since it was created in 1996 and does not provide states with increased resources in times of increased need.

Next week, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) is introducing a bill, the RISE Out of Poverty Act, to reauthorize TANF. The bill establishes reducing child poverty as its primary goal and provides states with the needed resources to achieve this goal. The bill would increase the TANF block grant to adjust for the effects of inflation and for population growth. In times of high unemployment, states could receive additional funding to cover a portion of the costs of increased spending on cash assistance, subsidized employment or child care. The bill also would remove restrictions that prohibit education and training from counting as work activities and require states to develop individual responsibility plans for each recipient based on an employability assessment. In addition, the bill also would address the adequacy of cash benefits and require child support collected on behalf of children in a family receiving TANF to be paid to that family.

Rep. Moore should be commended for her consistent leadership on raising the issue of child poverty and the inadequacy of TANF in meeting families' needs.  Her proposal is consistent with the goals for TANF reauthorization that CLASP has laid out, including:

  • Focus on alleviating poverty and preventing material hardship among children and families, especially those who are particularly vulnerable due to circumstances such as disability, domestic violence, or homelessness.
  • Create effective pathways to economic opportunity, including access to mainstream education and training and individualized services for those with barriers to employment.

The current extension of the TANF block grant will expire on Dec. 31, 2011. Congress must pass another extension to keep the program operating but should then turn its attention to a serious consideration of reauthorization. Given the broad focus on deficit reduction, it is unlikely that Congress will provide the additional funding that is so sorely needed. Therefore, it is even more important to establish clear priorities for use of TANF funds to ensure the funds are used for activities that support the economic needs of poor families with children, both those that help them deal with immediate financial crises and those that enable them to prepare for and succeed at work in the long term

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