BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Louisiana spends just 11 percent of its state and federal dollars under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in core welfare reform areas, a new report from the Louisiana Budget Project using 2015 state financial data finds. The state spent 8 percent on basic assistance, 1 percent on work-related activities, and 2 percent on child care assistance (see first graph).
Louisiana is a striking example of how TANF’s block grant structure and broad state flexibility — which some have held up as a model for other programs — have weakened the safety net.
Louisiana provides a weak safety net that serves few poor families. Cash benefits for a family of three are $240 a month, about 16 percent of the federal poverty line. And just four Louisiana families with children received cash assistance for every 100 poor families in the state in 2013-2014 — down from 48 such families in 1995-96. Because it serves so few families, the state does little to help poor families connect to work.
Instead, nearly 90 percent of Louisiana’s TANF funds go to other uses, many with little or no connection to the program’s main goals. Public and private pre-school, child welfare, and college scholarships made up more than 40 percent of Louisiana’s TANF spending in 2015. Many of the TANF-funded programs in other areas serve families with incomes well above the poverty line.
Moreover, Louisiana’s spending on core welfare reform areas has dropped sharply since 2000, even as spending in other areas has grown (see second graph).