Vice President for Family Income Support Policy
For the first time since creating the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in 1996, Congress last week extended the program without including funding for TANF Supplemental Grants aimed at 17 mostly poor states (see table). It did so even as the Census Bureau was releasing data showing very high levels of poverty and “deep poverty” (incomes below half the poverty line) in many of those 17 states.
Congress created the Supplemental Grants as part of the original welfare reform law to give poorer states and states with growing populations a better opportunity to achieve the goals of the 1996 welfare law. The grants reduce the large disparity between poorer and wealthier states in TANF funding per poor child under the basic TANF block grant funding formula (see chart).
The Supplemental Grants ran out earlier this year after Congress cut funding in December. The bill passed last week extends TANF for only three months, but the bill’s omission of Supplemental Grant funding makes it unlikely that Congress will include the grants in future TANF extensions.
The 17 states that will lose funding include:
These 17 states, many of which are already struggling to maintain a safety net for very poor families at a time of rising need, will now have an even harder time doing so. In most of these states, the Supplemental Grants account for 9 or 10 percent of TANF funding.
If Congress is unwilling to restore Supplemental Grant funding, another option would be to redesign TANF’s Contingency Fund so that more states can qualify. I’ll write more about this in an upcoming blog post.