Schmudget Blog
— filed under: ,

Federal Stimulus Supports Washington's TANF program

Posted by staceys at Feb 26, 2009 07:00 PM |

The recent federal stimulus package offers states significant financial support for increased investments in economic security for vulnerable families. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contains provisions for an emergency contingency fund within the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is the federal program that supports state welfare programs, which in Washington is known as WorkFirst.

The new federal provisions:
- provide significant, unanticipated money to the state for TANF
- require that states experience increases in TANF caseloads and expenditures to access federal money

While the TANF block grant generally provides states with a fixed amount of money each year, the new emergency fund offers additional money to states that corresponds to increased TANF costs during the recession. The new provisions in the federal legislation are intended to help states respond to the rising need for government assistance during an economic crisis. They provide a very attractive 80 percent reimbursement for the increased costs associated with rising caseloads and innovative programs designed to assist families. (This means that for every 20 cents the state spends, it gets back 80 cents in federal assistance. In dollar terms, for every one dollar spent, Washington would receive four dollars back.)

Washington State stands to gain unanticipated extra federal dollars under this provision, but to take advantage of these funds lawmakers must resist the temptation to cut caseloads or benefits in order to deal with budget shortfalls. A state can only receive the new emergency funds for increased assistance costs if it has increased caseloads and expenditures. In other words, the program must be serving more people now than it did in 2007 - when the average monthly caseload was over 51,000 - and it is projected to do so. The Caseload Forecast Council predicted last November that the state will have close to 59,000 TANF recipients in 2011, a 14.5 percent increase over the June 2008 projection. (See graph) It is highly likely, given the escalating crisis in the economy and unemployment, that these regular assistance caseload numbers will be much higher.


Increased caseloads in Washington State will come primarily from the rising need of vulnerable families during the current economic recession. But additional caseload growth in Washington will also come from the Career Services program that the state recently created to support families trying to work their way off assistance. The state has been planning to expand this program later this year to include working families receiving food stamps. Because expenditures on this program qualify for the 80 percent reimbursement, Washington State is well-positioned to pull in extra federal dollars through the emergency fund for previously scheduled expenditures.

As state lawmakers move forward in the budget-writing process, it is important to consider that reductions in TANF benefits for basic assistance or steps taken to reduce caseloads will mean Washington will lose out on 80 cents in additional federal funding for every dollar that gets cut. Not only would this do harm to our collective effort to provide economic security to everyone in the state, it would also run counter to the purpose of the federal stimulus bill which seeks to increase spending in the overall economy. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, every federal dollar pulled into the state is expected to generate $1.38 in economic activity.

For more information on the TANF provisions in the federal stimulus bill, see this paper from the CBPP. Many thanks to Liz Schott at CBPP for her assistance with this post.

Document Actions

We're Hiring!

We are looking for an experienced Deputy Director to manage the internal operations of our team of policy analysts and communications and outreach experts. Our ideal candidate will have research and analysis experience as well as a commitment to team-building and staff development. Priority review will be given to candidates who apply by May 30. Find out more.

You're Invited

Join us and Partners for Our Children for "Forum on Poverty: The Impact on Children and Families" on May 26, 12-4 pm, in Burien. Our policy analyst Elena Hernandez will be a speaker at this forum that will discuss how we can advance policies that prevent intergenerational poverty. THIS EVENT IS FULL, but you can email Partners for Our Children to get on the waitlist. 

Our Legislative Agenda

Our agenda for the 2015-2017 biennium calls for an equitable, sustainable revenue system in addition to state investments that: promote a world-class education system; sustain a strong middle class; produce living-wage jobs, and ensure that all Washingtonians have equal opportunity to get ahead. 

Testimonies in Olympia

We testified in support of a number of important bills during the 2016 legislative session. Take a look:

  • Policy Analyst Elena Hernandez's testimony (at the 23:23 minute mark) on the House Bill that would take a two-generation approach to preventing poverty 
  • Associate Director of Fiscal Policy Andy Nicholas's testimony (at the 1:54:09 mark) on the House bill focused on aerospace-related tax breaks
  • Research and Policy Director Lori Pfingst's House testimony (at the 9:25 mark) and Senate testimony (at the 1:44:54 mark) on the two-generation approach to poverty prevention bill 

Budget Matters Summit

Thank you to all who attended our our Budget Matters 2015 policy summit. If you missed it (or would like to relive it), you can watch a highlight video of the summit or watch the full summit panel -- which featured a range of community leaders talking about how to advance racial equity in state policymaking.