Poor Families Worse Off Under Welfare Reform

I wrote awhile ago about a range of problems with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). A new report by Legal Momentum puts the spotlight on one of them–the program’s egregious failure to provide poor families with enough for even their most basic daily needs.

This in itself is no news to anyone who’s been following the issue. But Legal Momentum’s state-by-state figures are new–and, to my mind, shocking.

Here in the District, the City Council recently decided, once again, to eliminate a small benefits increase for TANF families. So let’s see what the report tells us about how things stood for a D.C. TANF family of three, as of July 2008.

  • The family’s benefits were $428 per month–just $2 more than the median state benefit.
  • They were 29% of the federal poverty line–the same as the state median.
  • Combined with food stamps, the benefits still left the family at just 56% of the FPL–a lower percentage than in 21 states.
  • The real value of the benefits* was 23% less than when welfare reform was passed–1% less than the state median loss.

In short, D.C. families that depend on TANF have nowhere near what they need to stave off acute hardships. And they’re fairly representative of TANF families throughout the country.

For Legal Momentum, the solution is to reform TANF when it’s reauthorized next year so that states are required to provide benefits “at least sufficient to raise family income to the official poverty line.”

This, of course, would be a whole lot better than what we’ve got now. But it wouldn’t give TANF families enough to live on. Consider that, if the requirement were in place now, our D.C. family of three would be entitled to about $1,526 per month–or about 29% of the Economic Policy Institute’s basic budget for a parent and two children in the Washington metro area.

Still, it’s probably as much as–if not more than–we can get Congress to consider. Benefits that would provide poor families with enough for a reasonably decent, safe, healthful standard of living would require a fundamental change in our social values.

And the ongoing disintegration of health care reform shows that we’re nowhere near ready for that.

*  Real value compares July 2008 and July 2006 benefits as percentages of the applicable FPL.

3 Responses to Poor Families Worse Off Under Welfare Reform

  1. […] perspectives confirm some things we already knew, e.g., that TANF benefits are woefully inadequate. They also shed new light on some serious systemic problems–reasons […]

  2. Anita says:

    I was appalled to read about the benefits for a family of three. However, I remember when I was on TANF in the early ’90’s. The benefits, food stamps, and Medicaid were cut off for my daughter and me…because I worked at Pizza Hut as a waitress and made $32 more a month than my benefits check of $300.

    The eligibility worker did not offer any recommendations. I was just one more head of household off of DC’s welfare roll. In almost 20 years of welfare “reform”, it looks like not too much has changed, except that times and policies are much harder for the poor and working poor.

  3. arizonapoor says:

    Some people when being helped tend to be really dependent. They also forget to help theirselves.

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