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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

School Nutrition Policy – Pizza and Vegetables or Pizza as Vegetables

It is much easier to reach agreement that children should be eating nutritious meals during the school day – then it is to agree on what constitutes nutritious. There is guidance to ensure that children eat enough calories during the school day – but also that those calories come from nutritious foods. For instance, under the new nutrition standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, schools would need to use about one-half cup of tomato paste on pizza in order for the sauce to count as a serving of vegetables. This upset groups like the American Frozen Food Industry – who argued that the amount was too great and has lobbied Congress to stop the standard from moving forward. Congress apparently agrees, as the House of Representatives' agriculture appropriations bill was released last week, and the bill will prevent the new rule on tomato paste from taking effect.

With the incredible childhood obesity rates in the United States –nutrition advocates are strongly opposing the legislation. Margo Wootan, the Director of the Center for Science and the Public Interest issued a statement regarding the bill saying; “It's a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children's health, and continued to say that “if finalized, this legislation may go down in nutritional history as a bigger blunder than when the Reagan Administration tried (but failed) to credit ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program. Pizza should be served with a vegetable, not count as one.”

Keeping child nutrition at the forefront is important for the health of our children and of our country. No matter how nutrition is defined, States will be responsible for adhering to the federal regulations and so engaging in the conversation at the national level is a good opportunity to ensure that the values of your community are considered.

For related results-based policy strategies visit our Policy for Results section on preventing and reducing childhood obesity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New On! Promote Youth Civic Engagement

Youth civic engagement leads to reduced risky behavior, increased success in school and greater civic participation later in life. However, youth today are less likely than those in earlier generations to exhibit many important characteristics of citizenship. A study from the National Conference of State Legislatures found that more young people can name an American Idol winner than know the political party of their state’s governor.
State policymakers across the country are working to engage youth in positive opportunities for civic participation, which is important for healthy youth development and for the health and performance of democracy. By creating opportunities for youth civic engagement, policymakers promote the healthy development of young people. Civic engagement provides young people with opportunities to gain work experience, acquire new skills, and to learn responsibility and accountability—all while contributing to the good of their communities. now provides results-based policy strategies for promoting youth voter registration, establishing authentic youth voice in government, promoting diverse youth service and policies to promote youth engagement.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Community-Based Solutions for Juvenile Offenders

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted that in the past decade the rate of juvenile offenders that are held in detention facilities has dropped by 25 percent, in some states the rate has decreased by more than 50 percent. This is due in part to states addressing the policies that have led to young people being detained.

Research states that many youth are detained because of status offenses, violations of court orders related to status offenses and probation violations. Young people who experience detention have higher rates of attempted suicide and psychiatric disorders; that often go untreated or are inappropriately treated. Youth who are held in detention also have higher recidivism rates and are more likely to engage in adult criminal behavior than youth who are not detained. Reducing the inappropriate or unnecessary use of juvenile detention improves public safety and reduces the likelihood that youth will engage in adult criminal behavior.

For state policy strategies for preventing delinquency and ensuring quality juvenile justice services visit our homepage to sign-up for e-mail updates for new and updated results-based policy regarding Juvenile Justice - coming soon!