Vice President for Family Income Support Policy
The health and economic burdens of COVID-19 are falling disproportionately on people of color and people with very low incomes — who faced significant economic and health challenges before the pandemic — and the new Pandemic TANF Assistance Act would provide financial assistance to many of these families and protection from the negative consequences of previous policies.
Past policy decisions and scarce investment in communities of color created disparities that put people of color at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, losing their jobs, and being unable to make ends meet during the current sharp economic downturn. Moreover, many of these families and individuals were left out of previous relief measures enacted in response to COVID-19.
The Pandemic TANF Assistance Act, introduced today by Senators Ron Wyden, Brian Schatz, Sherrod Brown, and Robert Casey, makes temporary but important changes to protect the recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) from the impact of punitive and restrictive TANF policies and authorizes a $10 billion Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant Program through which states, territories, and tribes could help families and individuals.
The Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant Program includes three important features that we have previously identified as important:
TANF often is the program of last resort for families with nowhere else to turn for assistance. Since the pandemic, states are seeing a substantial increase in the number of families applying for TANF benefits.
Importantly, the Act suspends TANF work requirements and time limits that could increase TANF recipients’ exposure to the harm of the pandemic. It prohibits states from imposing penalties on an individual or family that has not met a work requirement, completed an initial assessment, or complied with establishing paternity or a child support order. It also holds states harmless for not achieving and verifying TANF work participation rates, not complying with paternity establishment and child support state requirements, and extending assistance past the five-year time limit on benefits.