Senior Policy Analyst
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia raised their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits between July 2018 and July 2019, our updated report shows. (See table.) That’s good news, because studies show that income matters: when Black, brown, and white families struggling to meet their basic needs get more income, their children have a better chance of growing up healthy and with an opportunity to thrive. TANF, the main cash assistance program for families living in poverty, can play a key role in ensuring that they have enough income for food, rent, clothing, and other necessities.
Yet states need to do much more for TANF to fulfill its core purpose of providing cash assistance to help families meet basic needs. TANF benefits are low and have lost considerable value since the President and Congress created the program in 1996. This disproportionately hurts Black children, who are likelier than white children to live in the states with the lowest benefits. Consider:
States should do more to support families. In particular, states with extremely low benefits should boost them significantly, which (among other things) would help ensure that Black children aren’t left behind their white counterparts.
With many states’ TANF caseloads reaching their lowest levels ever, states should start by reinvesting the federal and state savings in basic assistance. As part of this reinvestment, states should at a minimum restore the full value of benefits lost since 1996 and reverse any cuts that states made during the Great Recession, even if that requires incremental increases over several years. Then states should establish mechanisms to prevent benefits from eroding in the future. Adjusting TANF benefits yearly in step with inflation can maintain families’ purchasing power and help them meet basic needs.
|States Raising TANF Benefits in Past Year|
|(Monthly benefit for family of three)|
|July 2019 Benefit||Increase Since
|Increase Due to an Annual or Periodic Adjustment|
|District of Columbia||$642||$66|
Note: TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Source: CBPP-compiled 2019 state benefit levels