Low-Income Americans Could Get Cash Aid Under New Senate Plan

By Tara Golshan

(EXCERPT)

As it stands, the United States’ existing safety net for those individuals, TANF, is not equipped to handle an increased caseload. TANF was originally designed in the 1990s to pull families out of poverty and into work by giving states a lump sum of money to create their own basic assistance programs. When TANF began, as part of the 1996 welfare reform push, for every 100 families in poverty, 68 received benefits. But when the economy faltered in the 2000s, so did the program. The program’s work requirements — requiring 30 hours of “work activity” a week — proved too restrictive in an economic downturn. The block grants were never adjusted for population changes or for inflation, meaning they’ve decreased in value every year since the program started. In 2018, only 22 families out of 100 in poverty were getting aid. 

“There’s this notion that we let these programs wither when the economy is good even though there are so many people who are still struggling to find employment, and then there’s a major crisis and we have to start from scratch,” Elizabeth Lower-Basch, with the anti-poverty advocacy group Center for Law and Social Policy, said. “There’s a real argument for having these programs running all the time.”

 

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