A new report from the United States Census Bureau’s Current Population Reports on Household Economic Studies addresses how the recession has affected those enrolled in social programs. The report includes a comparison of program participation of families who use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) both before and during the recent recession. TANF is a federally funded assistance program which, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states allocate in
“ways designed to meet any of the four purposes set out in federal law, which are to: ‘(1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.’”
The report analyzed multiple factors affecting participation in TANF by examining whether participation increased and employment decreased as a result of the recession, comparing family enrollment in other assistance programs based on welfare and poverty status before and during the recession, and exploring whether or not there were different reasons for a reduction in welfare benefits before and after the start of the economic recession. The Bureau’s report also researched the increased percentage of employed welfare beneficiaries after the employment requirement was instated in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PWORA) that created TANF in 1996. The three groups compared in the study were TANF recipients, poor non-TANF participants and other non-TANF families.
The study reported multiple valuable findings, examining racial enrollment, full and part time employment statistics, labor force participation rates, and TANF recipient enrollment in other social assistance programs. While the recession increased participation in other social support programs, such as energy assistance, SNAP, and clothing assistance, there was no significant change in the TANF participation rate of poor families between 2006 and 2009. The increase seen in other programs was directly correlated to the rise in unemployment, which was not necessarily seen in TANF. However, married-couple families, who generally have the lowest overall rates of TANF participation, grew in proportion to the overall TANF recipient pool. TANF recipients were also more likely to receive other sources of assistance than both poor and non-TANF study participants.
The report included information about the reasons for participating and exiting the TANF program. The study found that one-eighth of former recipients no longer received benefits due to exceeding the enrollment time limit. Few families appeared to leave TANF for failing to fulfill the employment requirement and the report did not find that families receiving TANF only worked in order to continue to receive their benefits even though TANF enrollee employment rates have increased since the implementation of the work requirement. Conversely, the most common reason for families to stop receiving benefits is because their income exceeded the income eligibility limit (about one-third of former recipients surveyed). Yet they still needed some form of welfare assistance which indicates that families are not receiving the income necessary to provide for their families with low-pay work alone. Only one-fifth of former TANF beneficiaries left the program because they no longer needed TANF assistance.
In reference to the PWORA employment requirement, the report showed that TANF families were more likely to participate in job training and education programs than poor non-TANF families and all other non-TANF families. These programs can touch on job searching and resources, interviewing skills, proper work etiquette and attire, or even self-esteem building workshops. TANF family participation in these programs increased from 11.5 percent in 2006 to 25.0 percent in 2009, while poor non-TANF families increased from 3.0 percent to 7.1 percent and other non-TANF families from 0.8 percent to 2.1 percent. This not only shows the affect the recession has had on the ability for lower income families to maintain a steady job, but also shows that many TANF families are highly motivated and committed to seek employment. Educational programs, including programs for basic literacy skills; GED and college certificate and degree attainment; and English as a Second Language, did not have significant increases in participation between 2006 and 2009.
A strong safety-net, including programs like TANF, is essential to supporting low income families with children, particularly in a struggling economy. The research in this report shows that TANF beneficiaries are likely to utilize professional development and work support opportunities. Policymakers should consider new ways of supporting families in their efforts to improve their work opportunities while also helping to provide work supports that enable families to be engaged in the workforce. For more information on how to support TANF beneficiaries and low income families, see policyforesults.org.