BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Previewing the GOP Poverty Plan
As House Republican leaders prepare to release their poverty plan tomorrow, we’ve issued several analyses of its likely components:
House GOP leaders likely will argue that the 1996 welfare law — principally its creation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, with its work requirements, time limits, and other features — has been a major success, while other anti-poverty programs have largely failed and should be reshaped along the lines of TANF. House GOP leaders likely will also talk about the value of “evidence-based policy.” So let’s look at the evidence about the effects of TANF and other anti-poverty policies on poor families’ well-being. Three findings stand out: 1) TANF’s results have been mixed; 2) as more evidence of TANF’s effects has emerged, researchers have adjusted their assessments of welfare reform; and 3) various other anti-poverty programs have proven effective.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, adults in poverty are significantly better off if they take a job, work more hours, or receive a wage hike, we found in our recent comprehensive analysis of the data and research related to work and the safety net. Further, various changes in the safety net over the past two decades (including health reform, or the Affordable Care Act) have substantially increased incentives to work for people in poverty.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, other House Republican leaders, and some conservative commentators have cited TANF as a model for reshaping federal-state funding relationships in other programs for low-income families. The forthcoming proposal from the House Republican Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility is likely to reflect that view. It’s thus important to examine how TANF has performed, in both good times and bad, in helping poor families with children meet basic needs and improve their employment prospects and their lives. Such an examination indicates that TANF is not a useful or applicable model for other safety net programs.
House Republicans will likely propose work requirements for safety net programs in their plan to address poverty, but the evidence indicates that such requirements do little to reduce poverty, and in some cases, push families deeper into it.
We’ll have more to say tomorrow after Republican leaders release their plan.