Talk of the Hill: TANF Safety Net and Work Program Are Both Inadequate

The Center for American Progress hosted a briefing yesterday on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti opened the event with a data-informed overview of TANF’s performance since its creation in 1996 welfare reform. She was followed by a panel moderated by Georgetown University Law Center’s Peter Edelman and including Drexel University’s Mariana Chilton, Witnesses to Hungers’ Shearine McGhee, Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Deborah Schlick, and University of Michigan’s Kristin Seefeldt.

Pavetti’s introduction revealed that TANF cash assistance is currently accessed by far fewer families in poverty than before welfare reform. Not only does it reach fewer families in need, but the amount is insufficient for the few families who do receive it. Additionally, funding for TANF’s work program is crowded out by competing programs of work supports and other social services. From various perspectives ranging from direct personal experience to program administration and quantitative and qualitative research, the panelists discussed how TANF is used and restricted for people needing the program. It is well worth watching to understand the current challenges of providing welfare from both a systems and service delivery perspective. Concluding statements called for fixing the federal work participation process measure that drives state behavior, creating more access to on the job training like the recent Emergency Fund under the stimulus, and reorienting TANF as both an unemployment safety net and an assistance program that is responsive to people with extensive service needs.

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