Senior Policy Analyst
As we’ve noted, more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have increased cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for this year or next. Nevertheless, TANF benefits will still be at or below 60 percent of the poverty line in every state, as our latest report shows. Furthermore, despite these increases, black families are likelier than white families to live in states with historically low benefit levels, leaving them with far less than they need to meet their basic needs.
Under TANF, states have great flexibility in how much they provide in direct financial assistance to poor families. Part of federal policymakers’ rationale for providing that flexibility was that states know better how to support their residents in need. But, in fact, states with some of the lowest benefits under TANF’s predecessor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), now do less than they did under AFDC to lift a family out of poverty. These tend to be the states where many black families live.
Moreover, black families are likelier to live in states with less access to TANF’s direct financial assistance and lower spending on basic assistance (mainly direct financial assistance to families). (See the appendix in our report for state-specific details.)
These findings represent a troubling reality. Black families already face tougher labor market prospects due to structural racism and employment discrimination, and those that live in these states have limited access to critical financial assistance when they face a crisis. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence shows that economic security programs, like TANF financial assistance, can improve children’s long-term outcomes. That means that nationally, a black child in poverty has access to fewer resources than a white child in poverty, putting poor black children at greater risk of poor outcomes.
Every state — particularly those with the weakest TANF programs — must do more to support all poor families in the short term and to help bolster children’s long-term outcomes. That means increasing basic assistance spending, access to TANF cash assistance, and benefits.