In Focus: State TANF Policies and Data

Oct 6, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Making a Difference for Poor Babies Using TANF: A Framework for States

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Stephanie Schmit

Americans overwhelmingly agree that children’s fate in life should not be determined by the circumstances in which they are bornBut children born into poor families are at great risk of persistent poverty during their childhood. A growing body of evidence shows that poverty in early childhood is a grave threat to children’s long-term health, well-being, and educational success, with persistent and deep poverty causing the most damage. A new CLASP report, TANF and the First Year of Life: Making a Difference at a Pivotal Moment, suggests an innovative framework for thinking about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in the context of the first year of life, a vision for what a reformed TANF might look like, and concrete steps that states can begin taking right now to move their programs in this direction.

TANF offers an important, large-scale, high-impact opportunity to achieve two-generational goals for poor families with infants because:

  • TANF already reaches about a quarter million of the poorest families with babies or pregnant women, which is about half of deeply poor families with infants.
  • By its design, TANF is inherently a two-generational program, in that it is explicitly aimed at serving low-income families with children.
  • TANF is a block grant that gives states a great deal of flexibility in deciding which needy families to serve, what services to provide, and what to expect of recipients.

Today’s state TANF programs too often fall far short of their potential. Barriers to access, underfunded services, and work requirements that do not take the needs of infants into account hold parents back and make it harder for them to lift themselves and their babies out of poverty. For example, in 11 states, parents of infants under the age of one are subject to work requirements and could lose their entire family’s cash assistance benefit the first time they fail to meet work requirements.

But the growing evidence about the importance of the first year of life for children’s long-term success offers the opportunity to build a much stronger case than even just a few years ago for redesigning TANF programs to meet the developmental needs of infants in TANF families.

For the first time, the paper provides a framework grounded in the research about infant development and detailed data about TANF families and state policy options, to provide a wealth of practical ideas for state leaders. These ideas, organized into a package of foundational options for all states to consider, along with a set of more innovative options for states that have made strong progress on the foundations, include:

  • removing barriers that prevent pregnant women and parents of babies from accessing cash assistance;
  • redesigning work requirements to reflect the needs of infants and the realities of today’s low-wage labor market;
  • ensuring access to quality child care; and
  • building linkages to other programs and services, such as early childhood home visiting, health care, and nutritional supports.

Some states have already started to adopt more evidence-based and positive policies for TANF families. Minnesota repealed its family cap in 2013. Last year, Washington state set aside nearly $1 million from the TANF block grant to fund a pilot home visiting project targeting TANF recipients using evidence-based models already used in the state. The recent reauthorizations of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) require states to make a number of changes to how they deliver the services funded by these programs, and how they relate to TANF. This makes it an opportune time for states to think holistically about how these multiple programs serve the same families, and to re-envision TANF as a true two-generational anti-poverty program. 

May 29, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

California to Repeal Rule Denying Cash Assistance to Thousands of Poor Children

UPDATE: CLASP is disappointed to report that the maximum family grant repeal was not included in the budget agreement announced by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 16, despite bicameral support in the state legislature. We will continue to partner with state and local advocates working to secure a stronger safety net for California's low-income families.

By Randi Hall

Within the upcoming weeks, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the California state budget which includes repeal of the maximum family grant (MFG) rule, which permanently denies cash assistance to babies born while a child is receiving CalWorks, California’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Both Subcommittees on Health and Human Services within the state Senate and Assembly recommended the MFG repeal in their respective versions of the budget. With over 27,000 California families sanctioned by the MFG rule in 2012, this repeal signals a  victory for policymakers and state advocates promoting the well-being of over 140,000 of California’s children negatively impacted by the policy.

With California’s repeal of the MFG rule, also known as a “family cap”, just 15 states now have a family cap policy in place under their TANF program; a number of states that once included the cap have since worked towards repealing the law, such as Minnesota in 2013. Family cap policies have been promoted with the purpose of deterring the growth of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families receiving welfare benefits, based on the hypothesis that welfare recipients might intentionally conceive a child to receive an increased benefit, to become exempt from mandatory work requirements or activities, or to remain eligible for the program.  However, these policies have been wholly ineffective in reducing birth rates among poor mothers in TANF.

Instead what family caps have done is exacerbate poverty and its long-term effects on children’s health and well-being. Studies indicate that a family cap significantly increases deep poverty rates among single mothers and their children by at least 12 percent.  Without the MFG rule, most affected households in California would receive an additional $128 per month in assistance for a newborn child—hardly enough to meet an infant’s basic needs, but still an amount that would mitigate the financial burdens associated with deep poverty. In some circumstances, family cap policies can also result in a “zero-grant” situation which prevents a household that would be otherwise eligible to receive aid from doing so.

Repeal of the MFG has been a high priority for California anti-poverty advocates for years, and has drawn support from pro-life groups as well as those who advocate women’s reproductive choice.   California's repeal of the MFG rule has been championed by Senator Holly Mitchell over the last three years, and has received essential support by Senate Pro Tem De Leon and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. CLASP strongly encourages Gov. Brown to accept the state budget with the MFG repeal in place, granting a much-needed reprieve for thousands of California's poor children and families.

Mar 6, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

The Grand Canyon Isn't the Biggest Chasm in Arizona: Proposed Budget Widens Gap to Economic Security for Low-Income Families

UPDATE: The Arizona legislature passed a budget for FY2016 in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 7. According to the Associated Press, the budget deal included the reduction of the lifetime limit for receipt of TANF to 12 months from 24 months, as well as the elimination of all state funding for two counties’ community college systems (Pima and Maricopa), with the funding for Pinal County’s community colleges spared from cuts.

State lawmakers in Arizona are working furiously on a FY16 budget deal designed to reduce the state’s deficit. Unfortunately, Governor Doug Ducey and the Republican leadership in Arizona’s House and Senate plan to achieve these cuts by slashing funds for programs that support low-income children, families, and individuals in seeking economic security. According to reports, the proposal includes draconian cuts to community colleges and other higher education programs, cash assistance to poor families under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and child care. Reductions in these individual programs are bad enough, but this combination of cuts is especially problematic because it generates the potential for devastating effects for the future of Arizona and its labor force and economy. 

The surest path to economic security is a job that pays family-sustaining wages. And poor and low-income families need support—in the form of education, job training, child care and other assistance—as they seek to obtain and hold onto employment with decent pay. Arizona already has the eighth highest rate of child poverty among the 50 states at 26.5 percent. The rate is particularly high among Native American and Hispanic children (38.6 percent and 28.9 percent, respectively). The state can ill afford to abandon children and families who are striving for success. That’s why the proposed cuts are so concerning. 

Governor Ducey’s proposal would completely eliminate state funding for the three largest community college districts in Arizona, while also significantly cutting state support for public universities. Many low-income, minority and nontraditional students rely on community colleges as relatively inexpensive routes to getting the training, education, and skills required for career success. For instance, Maricopa Community College, which would see its state funding eliminated under the proposal, serves nearly 265,000 students annually. Of these students, half are racial or ethnic minorities, while 41 percent are at least age 25 and 72 percent attend part time. The governor’s proposal would put opportunities for career success that much farther out of reach for these and other low-income Arizonans. 

Poor families also benefit from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is operated through block grants that allow states to determine (within guidelines) how to use the federal funds. The reported deal would slash the amount of time that the poorest parents and children could receive TANF cash assistance to meet their basic needs. Currently, Arizona provides up to 24 months of TANF cash assistance (which is already one of the shortest lifetime limits for any state); the proposal would slash that to only 12 months, which is unprecedented and far and away the shortest time limit for TANF of any state. Moreover, this time limit would apply to many cases where only children receive benefits. These cuts put children at risk of hunger, homelessness, and toxic stress that makes it harder for them to succeed in school and grow up as healthy, successful adults.

Another way to support low-income working families is by offering assistance with child care so that parents can seek and hold onto jobs while their children are being well cared for in safe and affordable settings. Governor Ducey’s proposal eliminates $4 million in funding that was just added this year to open up the child care assistance waiting list for children in low-income working families.  

Arizona policymakers would do well to consider the impact of this short-sighted budget. By drastically cutting off the support that hard-working poor and low-income people in their state need to climb up the ladder to economic security, the state’s leaders are forsaking Arizona’s overall future success. For national policymakers, a key lesson driven home by this budget—negotiated behind closed doors—is the deep risks posed by proposals to give states flexibility to alter the fundamental structure of key federally funded safety net programs.

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