Monday, November 28, 2011

TANF Benefits Continue to Decline

According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, TANF benefits for poor families with children are worth less than they were in 1996 when the TANF program began. The report states that after adjusting for inflation, benefit levels in 2011 are at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 34 states. While most states froze benefit levels this year, six states and the District of Columbia cut them, reducing assistance for more than 700,000 low-income families that represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving such assistance nationwide. The report includes state specific information as well as detailed information about the reduction of TSNF’s worth and how that is impacting poor families, including:

  • TANF benefit levels are so low that they are not sufficient in any state to raise a family's income above 50 percent of the poverty line.
  • In all but two states, a poor family relying solely on TANF to provide the basics for its children (such as during a period of joblessness, illness, or disability) is further below the poverty line today than in 1996.
  • Almost all states have adopted "make work pay" policies under which TANF benefits phase out gradually as family earnings increase. However, families become ineligible for TANF cash assistance at very low income levels in nearly all states.

With the re-authorization of TANF likely on the horizon, an economic climate that has led to significant state budget cuts, and the impact that this program has on poor families – it is important to consider the changes needed to ensure the needs of the nation’s poorest families are met. For state policymakers the upcoming TANF debate will be critically important – and provides an opportunity for policymakers to ensure that their state is able to best serve poor children and their parents.

For a series of fact sheets that provide guidance to state policymakers that is grounded in research and based on today’s economic realities visit our Policymakers’ Corner.