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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Update 9.26.11

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in the 1996 welfare reform act. TANF is a block grant program that gives each state a flat amount of federal funding each year that does not rise when the economy weakens, unemployment rises, or when a higher number of families need help. For a general explanation of TANF, please click here.

Both the House and the Senate passed a three-month TANF extension last week. Excuses have been circulating on the Hill as to why the bill extension is so short. Some Democrats have reported that this short-term extension was the only compromise to which House Republicans would agree.  Several Republicans promoted delaying the reauthorization of TANF so Congress could ensure that it includes tightening the work requirements for recipients as well as eliminating abuse of TANF funds.

Much of the criticism of TANF revolves around the worry that recipients will take advantage of the system by using their funds at locations such as casinos. While it’s true that measures should be taken to eradicate any tendency to misuse the TANF funds, this fear is outweighed by the urgent demand for increased funding for TANF programs across the country. When the time comes to draft legislative improvements for the TANF program, members of Congress must keep in mind the danger in delaying reauthorization. Poverty in America is so severe that we cannot afford to tolerate the status quo and fail to meet the needs of impoverished families across the U.S.

The fact that this bill does NOT extend the TANF Supplemental Grants will be highly problematic for numerous states. Due to their higher poverty rates, seventeen states require these “supplemental” grants to provide the bare minimum for many families. Texas is one of these states. Where an average of one in five American children living in poverty currently receive assistance from TANF, only one in 20 Texan children living in poverty receive such assistance. This is just one example of the fundamental importance of TANF Supplemental Grants to American families.

In these difficult economic times, the number of families eligible for TANF benefits has increased significantly. Yet, TANF has not been able to effectively respond to this increase due to the lack of sufficient funding. The goal of TANF has always been to help families who receive TANF benefits secure full employment and move up the socioeconomic ladder. However, this cannot be achieved when TANF lacks the capacity to help struggling families.

As Representative Doggett (D-TX) mentioned in his speech to the House on September 21, “More people are falling out of the middle class than joining its ranks.” The reality that Rep. Doggett describes is not only the opposite of TANF’s overall objective, but it also contradicts the values espoused in our Constitution.

At NETWORK, we are preparing for a series of congressional office visits to urge our representatives to focus on the improvement and reauthorization of TANF before the program extension expires. The current operation of TANF is inadequate, and we are voicing our concerns that a longer, more comprehensive reauthorization of TANF should be instituted. For a list of NETWORK’s eight authorization recommendations, please click here.