BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Arizona’s decision to cut its time limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) from 24 months to 12 months takes effect this month, making it the nation’s shortest such limit. About 1,000 families will lose assistance in July as a result, and additional families will lose benefits in every month after. An Arizona family that has already used 12 months of TANF will have no cash safety net.
Arizona’s action highlights the danger of giving states control over more safety net programs. Arizona has cut TANF time limits three times in the past six years, shifting funds to other parts of the budget. Lawmakers argued that they needed to make the most recent cut to help balance the budget, even though Arizona spends only 9 percent of its TANF funds on cash assistance for families. They kept the 12-month limit, which they enacted in March 2015, even when the fiscal pressures subsequently eased.
Arizona’s TANF program provides one of the nation’s weakest safety nets for families with children. During the Great Recession, the number of Arizona families on TANF stagnated, rising by only 1 percent even as unemployment more than doubled. TANF caseloads have dropped by over 60 percent since July 2010, when Arizona first cut time limits and made other TANF changes.
The state made these cuts despite its high levels of poor families and a rise in the share of children in poverty. In 2013-14, for every 100 Arizona families with children in poverty, just eight received TANF cash benefits — down from 42 such families in 1995-96 who received assistance under TANF’s predecessor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (see graph).
The ratio is likely even lower now, as the number of families on TANF has continued to fall. Arizona is well below the national average of 23 of every 100 poor families receiving TANF in 2014.