Senior Policy Analyst
Cash assistance benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2013, we explain in our annual update of state benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Seven states increased TANF grant amounts last year — and encouragingly, no state cut benefits — but most kept family grant levels unchanged, allowing inflation to continue eroding the benefits’ value.
TANF is often the only source of support for participating families and, without it, they would have no cash income to meet their basic needs. Yet, this critical safety net program supports fewer families — and its benefits are worth less — than ever before. Consider:
A few of the states that increased TANF benefits in 2013 were following through on past commitments to modestly raise benefits or adjust them for inflation. Three states — Connecticut, Ohio, and Wyoming — increased TANF benefits through annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). Such an automatic mechanism, built into state law, is the best way to prevent the value of TANF benefits from falling and to keep them even with inflation.
These are promising steps, but still more states should consider similar policy changes. It’s time for states to halt the erosion of TANF benefits and slowly restore some of the purchasing power the grants have lost over the past 17 years.
Click here for the full paper and 50-state data.