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Caseload Decline is Nothing to Celebrate

Posted by Kim Justice at Dec 20, 2013 02:50 PM |
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By Lori Pfingst and Kim Justice

Over the last five years, amidst record high unemployment and poverty, deep cuts have been made to WorkFirst, Washington state’s version of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). As a result, tens of thousands of families have been kicked off or locked out of the program. Some claim that these caseload declines are a success story. The truth is that Washington state families have been shut out of TANF, and for those who do gain access, the program does not meet the needs of parents as they attempt to find or keep a job.

Since 2009, TANF spending has declined by 30 percent, significantly weakening the ability of the program to respond to rising need during the economic downturn:

  • The TANF caseload today serves an average of 21,000 fewer people than it did in 2009 before cuts to the program took place. Child and family poverty rose significantly during that time period, and remains high compared to pre-recession levels.
  • Cash assistance, meager to being with, was slashed by 15 percent, and now covers just one-quarter of the most basic needs a family requires, such as having enough food, a safe home, paying for utilities, and other necessities such as clothing and school supplies. 
  • Job training, education, and career services – core supports to help parents stay connected to the workforce – have been significantly reduced.  

For every 100 children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty line in 2009, the TANF program covered 40.  By 2012, that number dropped to just 28 children (see graph).    


Rebuilding TANF should be a major priority as we continue to recover from the downturn.  While Governor Inslee’s recently proposed 2014 Supplemental Budget makes some small investments to strengthen TANF, newly proposed sanction policies and more difficult participation requirements further undermine the ability of TANF to help parents find work and meet the basic needs of children.  

Check out our full analysis of the Governor’s budget.  

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