Invest in TANF to Help Strengthen Families
Kids do better when their parents do better. So policymakers should look for ways to leverage and enhance the tools we have to ensure that they are improving outcomes for the entire family. A great place to start is by strengthening Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a major pathway to employment for parents with low incomes (see infographic).
The costs of basic needs like housing and child care are increasing faster than inflation, while wages have stagnated and income inequality continues to grow. In Washington state today, one-quarter of kids have gone through repeated periods of economic hardship, during which their family has had difficulty covering the cost of putting food on the table or a roof over their heads. Adverse childhood experiences, like economic hardship, can result in levels of stress so toxic to children that the impact can last a lifetime.
We can change this trend by strengthening programs like TANF. Since 2011, funding for TANF has declined by $610 million, despite the fact that the number of children and families living in poverty has increased. Cuts to the program – especially the 15 percent reduction in cash assistance – have hurt families by limiting resources to assist parents in meeting their children’s basic needs while they look for work.
TANF is a vital resource. Key ways legislators can strengthen the TANF program include:
- Restore TANF in the short term by reinvesting in core elements of the program, including cash assistance, job training, education, and child care. Policy decisions in the wake of budget cuts, including cuts to the cash grant, kicked people off TANF and made it harder to get on at a time when families needed it most. Restoring the cash grant to pre-recession levels would provide families with an additional $84 per month for essentials like diapers, food, and housing.
- Strengthen TANF in the long term through an integrated set of policies that maximize the opportunity for both children and parents to achieve long-term economic security. For parents, this means increasing resources for the work supports, education, and job training that lead to higher-skill, higher-wage jobs and results in family economic security. For kids, this means increasing investment in high-quality early learning opportunities to help them reach their full potential no matter their social and economic circumstances.
Improving the economic security of Washington state’s kids and families should be at the forefront as budget negotiations commence in Olympia.
Increased investment in TANF is just one of a host of policies that can, if strengthened, improve economic well-being for families by ensuring they can cover the cost of all basic needs like housing, food, child care, and health care.
Throughout session we will continue to look at the opportunities present in our current programs and demonstrate how a two-generation approach to addressing poverty can create opportunity for all Washingtonians.
*Lara Sim is the Senior Public Policy Campaign Manager at Statewide Poverty Action Network (SPAN).