Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TANF in Rural America

With TANF reauthorization on the horizon it is important for policymakers to consider the program’s impact and effectiveness across geographic areas. The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire released a report, TANF in Rural America Informing Re-authorization, to serve as a resource in considering the program’s affect in rural communities. The brief provides a new look at rural-urban differences in poverty rates and welfare receipt, as well as TANF’s impact on poor families. The Carsey Institute states that the report’s new appraisal is important for three reasons. First, there are persistent labor market disadvantages and barriers to work in rural areas. Second, the nation is enduring one of the deepest and most persis­tent economic downturns since the Great Depression and nonmetropolitan populations are often left out of the media spotlight. Third, the federal government will soon debate the reauthorization of TANF, which presents an opportunity to bring the unique circumstances of strug­gling rural Americans into policy discussions. The report spotlights data regarding the rural poverty and TANF including:

  • 24 percent of rural children living in poverty compared with 15 percent in suburban areas and 26 percent in central cities in 2009.
  • Poverty rates are particularly high among non-white children, with nearly half (49 percent) of rural black children and 37 percent of rural Hispanic children under age 18 living in poverty.
  • In 2009, just over 11 percent of poor rural families reported receiving any income from TANF, as compared to nearly 14 percent of poor urban families.
  • Cash assistance from TANF relieves, but does not eliminate, poverty because benefit levels are far too low to lift families above the poverty threshold. These ameliorative effects are weaker in rural than urban areas. Over time, the positive impacts of TANF receipt have continued to decline.

The report provides recommendations for the reauthorization of TANF including:

  • Keep America’s rural poor in mind
  • Acknowledge differences in ameliorative effect.
  • Re-establish the TANF Emergency Fund
  • Reinvigorate the Contingency Fund
  • Reconsider TANF Supplemental Grants

State policymakers are uniquely positioned to address the needs of urban, suburban and rural residents. Considering the resources available to guide decision-making so that the families in greatest need are supported is important – TANF reauthorization is a critical opportunity to address these needs.

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