When Republicans blocked the bill that Senators John Kerry, Richard Durbin, and Robert Casey introduced yesterday to extend the TANF Emergency Fund, they effectively guaranteed that the program will expire tomorrow. Before that happens, it seems worthwhile to recap what the program has accomplished over the last two years:
Provided jobs for about 250,000 low-income parents and teens who would otherwise have been unemployed. This recession has hit Americans with limited skills and education especially hard, as they now must compete for jobs with more qualified individuals who also are desperate for work. The TANF Emergency Fund placed these individuals directly in jobs where they earned an hourly wage, helping them pay their bills and build their skills for the future.
Helped low-income families avert homelessness. When families fall on hard times, one of their first struggles is paying the rent or mortgage. Many states used the TANF Emergency Fund to help families at risk of homelessness to meet these expenses. It costs much less — and helps families much more — to help them avoid becoming homeless in the first place than to provide emergency shelter for them for an extended period.
Helped communities respond to the growing need for food assistance. Food banks and other emergency food providers have seen a large spike in the number of people requesting food during this recession. Many states used the TANF Emergency Fund to purchase emergency food and help food providers respond to the increased need.
Helped states respond to the increased need for cash assistance. The TANF Emergency Fund allowed a number of states to cover the cost of providing cash assistance to the growing number of families that lacked other forms of support, without reducing funding for other much-needed human service programs.
Stimulated local economies. The TANF Emergency Fund was targeted to individuals with very limited incomes. Because these families have very little disposable income, they spend the money they receive almost immediately on basic goods and services, thereby keeping other people employed and businesses afloat. It is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy.