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Cash Assistance Should Reach Millions More Families

UPDATED
March 4, 2020

Families experiencing poverty should have access to cash assistance to help them afford their basic needs and maintain stability. Since the creation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program more than two decades ago, families have used it to pay for rent, diapers, food, transportation, and other necessities. Yet, too few families struggling to make ends meet have access to the program. If TANF had the same reach it that its predecessor, Aid to Families with Dependent Child (AFDC), did in 1996, some 2.4 million more families nationwide would have received cash assistance in 2018. Instead its reach has declined dramatically. In 2018, for every 100 families in poverty, only 22 received cash assistance from TANF — down from 68 families in 1996. (See Figure 1.) This “TANF-to-poverty ratio” (TPR) is the lowest in the program’s history.

Figure 1
TANF's Reach Declined Significantly Over Time

Access to TANF largely depends on where a family lives, which can exacerbate disparities among racial groups. There are no federal minimum eligibility standards and states have the power to erect barriers or create pathways to TANF cash assistance. This has led to wide variation among state TPRs, which range from 68 in California to just 4 in Louisiana (see Appendix Figure 1). In a growing number of states — now up to 16 — the ratio is 10 or less, meaning that for every 100 families living in poverty, 10 or fewer receive TANF cash assistance.

Black children are likelier than white children to live in states with the lowest TPRs. This is problematic given the history of discrimination in state cash assistance programs and the fact that Black families still face some of the greatest hurdles to economic security.

Research generally concurs that more income during early childhood can improve children’s futures. But TANF’s limited reach means that many families that hit upon hard times because they have lost a job, are fleeing domestic violence, or facing a health or mental health crisis have no access to cash assistance. Blocking families from assistance to address these basic needs often puts families on a downward spiral, making it even harder to get back on their feet, and may have long-term negative consequences for children.

State and federal governments have a critical role in ensuring that low-income families have access to a minimum level of support to meet their basic needs. Instead, states — with no national standards to hold them accountable for assisting families in need — have acted in their own self-interest, not in the best interest of families in poverty and particularly of families of color.

State and federal policymakers can change these trends. States should remove barriers to assistance and ease policies that cut off families who are still struggling. At the federal level, policymakers should hold states accountable to serve families experiencing poverty and provide the resources to help them do so.

What Is the TANF-to-Poverty Ratio?

We use the TANF-to-poverty ratio to examine changes over time in poor families’ access to TANF to help meet their basic needs. We calculate the ratio by dividing the number of TANF cash assistance cases by the number of families with children in poverty from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). We use two-year averages for our state-level calculations to improve the reliability of the data. (See Appendix A for further details about our methodology.)

When this ratio falls, it means TANF is less responsive to need than in previous years. The TPR can fall because: (1) the number of families receiving cash assistance from TANF falls, without a corresponding drop in the number of families living in poverty; or (2) the number of poor families rises, without a corresponding increase in the number of families receiving TANF benefits.

The TPR has both strengths and limitations. Its strengths include: (1) it provides a measure of access to TANF benefits that is consistent over time and across states; and (2) it uses readily available data, making it transparent and relatively current. Two key limitations are: (1) it is less reliable in small states because of sample size limitations in the CPS; and (2) the underreporting of income from public benefit programs in the CPS has worsened over time, making the official poverty estimates less accurate than they once were.

Cash Assistance for Poor Families Has Plummeted

If TANF had maintained the same reach to families in poverty as its predecessor, AFDC, had in 1996, nearly 3.6 million families would have received TANF in 2018, about 2.4 million more than reported for that year. (See Figure 2.) Instead the reach has declined dramatically. In 2018, for every 100 families in poverty, just 22 families received TANF cash assistance — a roughly two-thirds drop from TANF’s creation in 1996, when 68 families received cash assistance for every 100 in poverty. Between 2017 and 2018, both poverty and caseloads declined, and the TPR dropped slightly for the first time in five years.

Figure 2
TANF Could Be Serving 2.4 Million More Families

Generally, the TPR has declined over time because TANF caseloads have fallen much more than the number of poor families. That’s been the case over the last 12 years, for example: between 2006 and 2018, the number of families in poverty fell by 13 percent (from about 6 million to about 5.2 million) while the number of families receiving TANF fell by 39 percent (from 1.9 million to less than 1.2 million). Between its post-recession peak in 2010, when close to 2 million families received TANF (see Appendix Table 2) and 2018, the TANF caseload fell by 42 percent.

TANF-to-Poverty Ratio Falling in Most States, Often Sharply

The national TANF-to-poverty ratio misses the extreme — and growing — variation among states. In 2018 the TPR ranged from 68 in California to 4 in Louisiana. (See Figure 3.) (To improve the reliability of the state-level poverty data, we created two-year averages of the poverty numbers; we also converted the caseload data into two-year averages to calculate the TPRs. The years cited here are for the latter of the two years.)[2]

Figure 3
States' TANF Cash Assistance Programs Reach Few Poor Families

The TPR fell in a majority of states between 2006 and 2018 for several reasons: increases in the number of families living in poverty during and immediately following the recession, the failure of state TANF programs to respond to increased need during and after the recession, and state policy and administrative changes that made TANF less accessible, among other factors.[3] (See Appendix Table 1.) The TPR dropped by more than 10 points in 27 states over this period; in 17 of those states, it dropped by 20 points or more. In states with TPR declines, TANF caseloads fell while poverty rose or remained high, or caseloads rose by a relatively small amount while the number of families in poverty rose substantially.

An especially troubling trend is the growing number of states with TPRs of 10 or less. In 2006, only two states (Idaho and Wyoming) had such low ratios, and in 1996, no state did. The list grew during the Great Recession and has continued growing since then. In 2018, 16 states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — had TPRs of 10 or less. Three of these states have had especially large drops in their TPRs since 2006: Indiana (29 points), Kansas (23 points), and Arizona (21 points). (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4
TANF Serves Hardly Any Families Living in Poverty in Some States

In 2006, the two states with TPRs of 10 or less had under 1 percent of the total number of families with children living in poverty. In 2018, the 16 states with TPRs of 10 or less had 36 percent of the families in poverty.

States With Lowest TPRs Have Larger Shares of Black Children

The wide variation among state TPRs also exacerbates disparities among racial groups in access to TANF. Almost 41 percent of the nation’s Black children live in states with TPRs of 10 or less, compared to only 30 percent of white children.[4] Nationally, therefore, Black children are less likely than white children to have access to TANF assistance when their families fall into crisis. (See Appendix Table 4.) Moreover, if Black families do manage to receive TANF cash benefits, they are more likely to live in states with the lowest benefit levels, which do little to help families meet their basic needs.[5]

Historically, states have not ensured that Black families in need have access to cash assistance. In the early 20th century, many states had mothers’ pension programs, which provided small benefits to widows and their children. Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), which was enacted with the 1935 Social Security Act, provided federal support to states for family cash assistance programs. ADC allowed states to administer the program and determine eligibility and benefits.[6] But without federal regulation of eligibility standards, states were able to discriminate against Black families. For example, Southern states restricted eligibility for agricultural workers, who were disproportionally Black, around the planting and harvesting seasons claiming they were engaged in “suitable work” and therefore not in need of assistance. States applied discriminatory policies like “suitable home” and “man in the house”[7] rules that disproportionately denied or cut Black families off assistance. [8]

The ADC (renamed AFDC in 1962) caseload grew through the 1960s and 1970s and, despite states’ efforts to limit Black families’ participation in the program, their numbers grew as well.[9] To ensure that Black families could continue to access assistance, welfare rights organizers, led by Black mothers, sought to end discriminatory practices. They partnered with legal aid lawyers to push for greater enforcement of federal eligibility standards.[10] Their efforts led to several Supreme Court decisions that contributed to ending some of the most harmful state eligibility rules that discriminated against Black families.[11]

During that period, an increased federal role in AFDC helped the program reach more families in poverty. The program boosted the federal contribution to state programs and expanded eligibility in other ways, such as extending the child age of eligibility to 18 and allowing children with two parents in the home, one who was unemployed, to participate in the program. Between 1961 and 1979, the number of families on AFDC nearly tripled and the number of Black families on the program more than tripled.[12] The AFDC-to-poverty ratio grew in the 1970s and remained around or above 60 between 1979 until AFDC ended in 1996. (See Appendix Table 2.)

Despite gains made in the 1960s and 1970s, the access and adequacy of benefits under AFDC remained limited. Averaged together, the 16 states with the lowest TPRs today consistently had ratios lower than the national average between 1979, the earliest year of our state analysis, and 1996. Individually, a few of these states had ratios above the national average for some years, but generally, they had lower ratios than the national average even before TANF was implemented (see Appendix Table 5).

And further ground has been lost under TANF. The removal of the federal minimal eligibility standards, the increase in state flexibility, and incentives for states to reduce caseloads have led to the decline in the TPR nearly every year since TANF’s start. And states that historically denied Black families have simply opted to help few families at all.

Policy Changes Have Severely Restricted TANF Access in Some States

TANF caseloads in most states have fallen to their lowest levels in the program’s history in the past decade and are much lower than when TANF was last reauthorized in 2006.[13] In 39 states, caseloads fell by more than 20 percent between 2006 and 2018. Caseloads fall when the need for assistance goes down or when states make the program less accessible; both have occurred in the past ten years, but the biggest caseload declines occurred in states that made major policy changes that created barriers to TANF. Some states shortened or otherwise changed their time limits, cutting off families that remained in need. Others made it harder for families to qualify for benefits in the first place, such as by imposing more stringent applicant requirements. For example:

  • Arizona policymakers cut benefits, shortened time limits, and imposed other eligibility restrictions starting in 2009 and claimed the changes would help address budget problems. These changes account for most of the 82 percent decline in Arizona’s TANF caseload between 2006 and 2018. These steep declines in the face of high poverty levels lowered its TPR from 27 to just 6. In 2015, Arizona enacted legislation further shortening the time limit to 12 months, the shortest in the country.
  • Indiana made administrative and procedural changes after 2006, including instituting job search requirements for applicants and toughening sanctions penalties. Between 2006 and 2018, Indiana’s caseload dropped by 86 percent and its TPR dropped from 35 to 6.

Moreover, emerging evidence shows that many families leaving TANF due to restrictive state policies are worse off. States rarely track whether parents find work or how they fare after leaving TANF, but two recent studies in Washington State and Kansas provide important insights about families leaving TANF that are consistent with earlier research on families that lost TANF benefits due to time limits and sanctions.[14]

  • The Washington State study found that families losing benefits due to the restrictions on exemptions and extensions to the state’s time limit were likelier than families leaving TANF for other reasons to have barriers that prevented them from entering the labor market and leaving TANF on their own. For example, they were likelier to have significant mental and physical health issues: two-thirds of parents in that group had an indication of mental illness, 23 percent had a chronic illness, and 25 percent needed alcohol or drug treatment. Three years after losing TANF, fewer than half were employed, and they had higher rates of homelessness than families that left TANF for other reasons. In spite of their high rates of health issues, these families had not received TANF extensions based on disability and few transitioned to Supplemental Security Income.[15] Other analysis found that Black and Indigenous families in Washington State were likelier than other families to be cut off due to these time limit changes, putting them at greater risk of hardship.[16]
  • In 2011, Kansas implemented stricter sanctions for those not meeting work requirements. A review of the data on families leaving TANF due to these sanctions found that while most parents worked at some point after leaving the program, most of their jobs did not offer steady work or pay enough to make ends meet. In fact, about 70 percent of sanctioned families did not earn enough to lift themselves out of deep poverty four years after being sanctioned.[17]

Earlier research found that families whose TANF benefits were reduced or eliminated due to work-oriented sanctions were more likely to have physical or mental health issues and lower levels of education. Work-sanctioned families are also more likely to experience hardships such as utility shut-offs. Like low state TPRs, state sanction policies disproportionately affect Black families.[18] Nearly every study comparing the race and ethnicity of sanctioned and non-sanctioned TANF recipients finds that African American recipients are significantly more likely to be sanctioned than their white counterparts.

Stronger Cash Assistance Would Improve Children’s Prospects

The decline in access to TANF benefits has left many of the families experiencing the deepest poverty without resources to meet their basic needs. TANF has failed to maintain AFDC’s levels in reaching families, particularly those with children and those in deep poverty (who have incomes below half of the poverty line). TANF benefits alone are insufficient to help families move out of poverty in any state.[19] While AFDC helped more than 2.8 million children out of deep poverty in 1995, TANF helped only 287,000 children out of deep poverty in 2016.[20] (See Figure 5.) In 1995, only three states had more families living in deep poverty than receiving AFDC. By 2016, the vast majority of states had more families living in deep poverty than receiving TANF.

Figure 5
TANF Lifts Many Fewer Children Out of Deep Poverty Than AFDC Did

The evidence is clear that when families have more income, children do better in the future. Income support programs can improve children’s academic, health, and economic outcomes, the National Academies of Sciences’ report on reducing childhood poverty finds.[21] Even relatively small amounts of income make a difference. Among families with incomes below $25,000, children whose families received a $3,000 annual income boost when the children were under age 6 earned 17 percent more as adults and worked 135 more hours per year after age 25 than otherwise-similar children whose families didn’t receive the income boost, research finds.[22] That research suggests that TANF policy changes that cut families’ income, such as establishing harsher sanctions or shorter time limits or significantly reducing benefits, could harm young children now and in the future.

TANF Should Do More to Help Families Meet Basic Needs and Support Work

Federal policymakers have not increased the TANF block grant since its inception; as a result, it has lost nearly 40 percent of its value due to inflation. That fixed block grant funding and erosion, combined with TANF’s nearly unfettered state flexibility, narrowly defined work requirements, and time limits, have created a system in which very few families in need receive cash assistance (as the TPR data in this paper show) or help preparing for success in today’s labor market. The lack of minimum federal standards has allowed states to enact extremely restrictive eligibility policies, leaving the families with the greatest needs — including, disproportionately, Black families — unable to cover the basic essentials through either employment or cash assistance.

Other anti-poverty programs cannot fill the role that TANF is supposed to play. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit are very effective at boosting families’ overall income, but because they are paid as annual lump sums when a family files income taxes, families cannot access the credits throughout the year if a crisis occurs, and not all families can work or find work that would qualify them for the tax credits. Other cash assistance programs, like Unemployment Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, have eligibility standards that make them unavailable to the wider share of poor families who fall on hard times and need cash to meet their basic needs. Many families not receiving TANF benefits may receive food assistance from SNAP (formerly food stamps), but SNAP benefits cannot help families pay rent or buy diapers or clothes for their children.

TANF is overdue for significant improvements.[23] State and federal policy changes should focus on serving more families who need assistance and alleviating the program’s deep racial disparities, and on ensuring that adequate resources are available to achieve these goals. For example, states should:

  • Lift income thresholds and asset tests for applicants. In many states, eligible TANF applicants must be so destitute that few families in poverty even qualify. So that more families are eligible, states should lift income thresholds and eliminate asset tests.
  • Remove barriers to access for those seeking cash assistance. States have too many requirements that create challenges for people applying to TANF while in crisis. States should remove requirements like applicant job search and other hurdles that make it harder to get assistance.
  • Stop cutting off families that are struggling to meet their basic needs. Two of the main causes of TANF’s dramatic caseload decline are full family sanctions that end benefits to the entire family and arbitrary time limits. As noted above, families cut off by sanctions and time limits are more likely to have greater barriers to employment and to be families of color. States should ensure that their programs have adequate protections for families with significant barriers to work before imposing sanctions and time limits. Children should continue to receive benefits if the state imposes any sanction or a family reaches a time limit.

Additionally, federal policymakers should:

  • Hold states accountable for serving families in need. States focus on what they are incentivized to do. To expand TANF’s reach, Congress should remove incentives that encourage states not to assist families and should create a state accountability measure that focuses on serving families in need (such as the TPR). States that fail to meet a specified standard could be required to spend additional resources on cash assistance or work activities.
  • Require states to direct a specified share of federal and state resources to families receiving cash assistance. TANF’s purposes are broad, which has given states the flexibility to spread program funds throughout their budgets and allowed them to shift resources away from assistance to families. To better target resources, Congress should require states to spend a specific share of their state and federal TANF funds on basic assistance, employment assistance, and work supports like child care for families receiving TANF cash assistance.
  • Increase the TANF block grant to account for its decline in value, and index it to inflation in future years. The TANF block grant is worth 40 percent less than when it was created in 1996. Without additional funds, states are unlikely to increase their spending on a cash safety net for more families. Any additional funds should be restricted to TANF’s core purposes: cash assistance, employment assistance, and work supports.

Appendix A: Methodology and Source Notes

TANF Caseload Data

In this analysis, AFDC/TANF caseload data from January 1979 through August 2006 were collected from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Beginning in September 2006, this analysis uses caseload data collected directly from the states rather than the official data reported by HHS, as the state data more consistently reflect the number of families with children receiving cash assistance in each state over time.

These state data differ from the official HHS TANF data in two important ways. First, they include cases from solely state-funded programs. In most instances, these families had been in state TANF programs but were shifted to a solely state-funded program on or after October 2006, when the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) took effect, because states anticipated these families would not be able to meet TANF work participation requirements and thus would lower the state’s work participation rate. These cases are not included in the data reported to HHS as no TANF or state maintenance-of-effort (MOE) funds are used. While these families are not counted in the HHS TANF caseload numbers, they generally are seen as part of the state’s cash assistance program and continue to receive the same or comparable benefits as when they were receiving TANF.

Second, unlike the HHS data, the state data exclude cases in worker supplement programs, through which states provide modest TANF- or MOE-funded cash payments to working families. States generally created these programs after the passage of the DRA. Because these supplements make additional families eligible (or make current recipients eligible for a longer period of time), they increase the TANF or MOE caseloads that states report to HHS. Often, states provide a very small cash grant to these families — as little as $8 to $10 per month. The main purpose of these small grants is to raise the percentage of TANF families who are meeting their work participation requirement, thereby helping states meet their work participation requirement.

Including solely state-funded programs and excluding worker supplement programs in the caseload data used for our analysis provides us with a more consistent trend of the number of families receiving cash assistance in each state over time.

Data on the Number of Families With Children in Poverty

The number of families with children in poverty was calculated using Current Population Survey (CPS) data and the official Census poverty thresholds. We counted related subfamilies and primary families in a single household as one family but counted and determined the poverty status of unrelated subfamilies separately. “Deep poverty” refers to families with incomes below half the poverty line, which in 2018 was about $10,000 for a family of three. Two years of CPS data were merged to improve reliability for state estimates.

Ratio of Families Receiving TANF to Families in Poverty

Ratios are calculated by dividing the number of TANF cases (based on administrative data from HHS or, since late 2006, data collected from states by CBPP) by the number of families with children in poverty (CPS data). We use two-year averages for these calculations to improve reliability.

These ratios should not be interpreted as the percentage of families with children in poverty served by TANF because the number of families on TANF is not a perfect subset of the number of families in poverty. A family above poverty could receive TANF benefits. For example: some families may be poor in the months they receive TANF but have higher incomes for the rest of the year; states may encourage work by continuing partial TANF benefits for certain families with earnings slightly above the poverty line; and in some households, large extended families may contain more than one eligible TANF case unit. For these reasons, it’s possible for a state to have more than 100 TANF families for every 100 families with children in poverty.

Using the Alabama ratio as an example, the data should be described as follows: In 1995, for every 100 Alabama families with children in poverty, AFDC served 34 families. In 2018, 8 families participated in TANF for every 100 families with children in poverty.

In Alaska and Hawaii, the TANF-to-poverty ratio is above 100 in 1994-95 because the HHS poverty guidelines used in determining program eligibility in these two states are significantly higher than the Census poverty thresholds used in determining the number of poor families. (This is not true for any of the other 48 states. HHS poverty thresholds are set higher in Alaska and Hawaii to allow for higher costs of living in these two states but do not vary elsewhere. The Census Bureau’s poverty thresholds do not vary for any state.)

Appendix B

APPENDIX TABLE 1
State TANF-to-Poverty Ratios Over Time
  1995-96 2005-06 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 Ratio Change '05-06 to '17-18
Alabama 32 17 14 12 11 10 9 8 -9
Alaska 132 32 30 29 30 27 20 20 -12
Arizona 42 27 9 8 7 6 6 6 -21
Arkansas 33 11 7 6 5 5 5 5 -6
California 101 66 65 65 65 66 65 68 1
Colorado 66 18 21 20 20 26 34 34 16
Connecticut 82 48 30 31 30 23 21 22 -26
Delaware 99 45 29 33 39 38 36 39 -6
Florida 55 20 13 12 11 12 13 12 -8
Georgia 82 16 7 6 5 5 6 5 -11
Hawaii 108 71 51 50 40 38 38 34 -36
Idaho 32 8 5 7 7 7 8 8 0
Illinois 87 17 18 17 18 16 13 14 -3
Indiana 61 35 9 8 7 7 7 6 -29
Iowa 64 40 28 27 27 22 20 20 -20
Kansas 52 32 14 13 10 10 9 9 -23
Kentucky 55 29 20 19 19 20 24 21 -8
Louisiana 48 10 6 4 4 4 4 4 -6
Maine 91 52 40 30 24 22 19 18 -34
Maryland 97 32 30 29 27 30 39 33 1
Massachusetts 81 46 40 38 34 38 38 34 -11
Michigan 88 40 24 18 16 14 12 11 -28
Minnesota 93 51 38 40 49 57 47 41 -10
Mississippi 39 14 11 10 8 7 6 6 -9
Missouri 118 38 28 28 29 19 14 13 -25
Montana 41 21 15 17 16 17 26 33 11
Nebraska 54 52 20 19 17 20 21 18 -34
Nevada 71 20 17 16 18 22 22 19 -1
New Hampshire 100 62 26 24 25 25 28 30 -32
New Jersey 108 42 28 23 20 20 19 15 -27
New Mexico 44 32 25 22 22 22 21 21 -11
New York 79 41 35 39 40 43 42 42 2
North Carolina 74 14 8 7 7 7 7 6 -8
North Dakota 48 23 13 13 10 8 9 10 -13
Ohio 89 33 29 26 22 22 24 25 -7
Oklahoma 41 12 7 7 7 8 9 9 -3
Oregon 50 26 55 47 43 37 35 40 14
Pennsylvania 87 45 32 31 29 30 28 25 -21
Rhode Island 113 64 28 30 34 36 30 35 -29
South Carolina 40 21 13 12 11 11 10 10 -11
South Dakota 42 22 22 19 17 17 20 23 1
Tennessee 67 51 28 25 25 23 23 22 -28
Texas 47 12 5 5 4 4 4 4 -8
Utah 59 21 9 9 9 9 9 10 -10
Vermont 80 79 68 78 54 47 55 50 -28
Virginia 56 31 27 25 23 19 19 16 -15
Washington 76 63 38 33 27 25 26 29 -34
West Virginia 68 27 20 18 17 16 17 16 -11
Wisconsin 81 23 24 26 24 20 20 23 0
Wyoming 45 3 4 5 5 5 6 6 3

Source: CBPP analysis of poverty data from the Current Population Survey and AFDC/TANF caseload data from Department of Health and Human Services and (since September 2006) caseload data collected by CBPP from state agencies

Appendix Figure 1

Few Poor Families with Children Received TANF, 2018

APPENDIX TABLE 2
National Single-Year TANF-to-Poverty Ratios Selected years
  Number of families with
children in poverty
Average of number of families receiving AFDC/TANF Ratio
1979 4,222,769 3,465,254 82
1983 6,115,748 3,628,418 59
1987 5,720,798 3,718,937 65
1991 6,479,558 4,433,843 68
1996 6,400,950 4,380,430 68
2001 5,310,009 2,162,291 41
2006 6,042,035 1,902,442 31
2010 7,263,611 1,979,790 27
2011 7,373,605 1,963,241 27
2012 7,334,766 1,847,900 25
2013 6,940,399 1,748,042 25
2014 7,068,069 1,643,160 23
2015 6,477,753 1,502,219 23
2016 5,874,837 1,369,443 23
2017 5,568,321 1,263,045 23
2018 5,231,333 1,157,040 22

Source: CBPP analysis of poverty data from the Current Population Survey and AFDC/TANF caseload data from Department of Health and Human Services and (since September 2006) caseload data collected by CBPP from state agencies

APPENDIX TABLE 3
TANF Caseloads Over Time
  2006 2010 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Percent Change ’06-‘18
Alabama 19,358 22,363 19,365 16,388 13,083 10,849 9,487 8,296 -57.1%
Alaska 3,538 3,478 3,586 3,495 3,141 3,093 3,163 2,877 -18.7%
Arizona 38,634 28,492 16,177 13,322 11,087 9,160 8,088 6,980 -81.9%
Arkansas 8,161 7,462 5,844 4,946 3,895 3,127 2,763 2,443 -70.1%
California 480,132 575,090 558,364 555,605 520,000 478,637 442,343 406,398 -15.4%
Colorado 13,862 14,065 17,020 18,018 17,843 17,505 17,080 16,722 20.6%
Connecticut 21,365 19,181 16,757 16,612 14,951 13,306 12,988 12,015 -43.8%
Delaware 5,576 6,306 5,879 5,665 5,532 5,055 4,700 4,411 -20.9%
Florida 51,428 57,614 53,192 49,556 48,535 47,196 45,549 42,882 -16.6%
Georgia 29,338 20,387 17,351 14,698 13,157 12,552 12,731 10,863 -63.0%
Hawaii 9,310 9,628 9,715 8,818 7,531 6,322 5,275 4,599 -52.1%
Idaho 1,789 1,789 1,849 1,895 1,889 1,983 1,980 2,152 20.3%
Illinois 35,906 32,210 46,018 44,404 39,070 29,630 24,051 21,561 -40.0%
Indiana 43,668 34,984 12,203 10,140 8,885 7,997 7,146 6,277 -85.6%
Iowa 19,720 17,365 14,127 12,339 10,985 9,902 8,746 8,136 -58.7%
Kansas 16,639 13,914 7,462 6,319 5,676 5,144 4,505 4,183 -74.9%
Kentucky 32,470 30,483 30,256 27,813 24,490 22,621 21,225 19,181 -40.9%
Louisiana 11,266 11,013 7,165 5,767 5,491 5,781 5,557 5,510 -51.1%
Maine 11,979 14,716 8,713 7,082 5,968 5,037 4,466 4,077 -66.0%
Maryland 22,986 27,802 25,850 24,735 23,097 21,101 19,269 17,776 -22.7%
Massachusetts 46,686 50,673 52,193 49,661 43,554 37,119 30,120 29,224 -37.4%
Michigan 84,387 80,340 57,674 44,056 33,880 26,947 19,786 17,420 -79.4%
Minnesota 30,224 33,626 32,515 31,306 29,256 28,557 29,399 27,199 -10.0%
Mississippi 12,797 11,985 11,065 9,685 8,268 6,628 5,092 4,228 -67.0%
Missouri 43,777 41,999 40,191 36,385 30,964 27,225 12,354 10,636 -75.7%
Montana 3,642 3,707 3,160 3,129 3,046 2,981 4,341 3,866 6.2%
Nebraska 12,473 8,732 7,244 6,908 6,205 5,845 5,974 5,569 -55.3%
Nevada 7,030 11,897 11,357 11,550 12,994 11,041 9,820 9,580 36.3%
New Hampshire 6,096 6,520 4,421 3,828 3,454 3,066 2,847 3,601 -40.9%
New Jersey 41,879 39,560 39,993 36,974 33,680 28,238 16,464 13,312 -68.2%
New Mexico 15,785 20,633 17,573 14,818 14,129 13,176 11,844 11,184 -29.1%
New York 171,662 158,081 160,109 160,136 154,041 152,297 138,173 129,070 -24.8%
North Carolina 29,631 25,143 22,623 20,622 18,807 16,545 15,600 14,160 -52.2%
North Dakota 2,669 1,876 1,536 1,328 1,190 1,096 1,038 970 -63.7%
Ohio 79,285 100,655 74,957 66,675 62,024 58,918 54,360 49,822 -37.2%
Oklahoma 10,092 9,635 8,658 7,670 7,206 7,262 6,862 6,288 -37.7%
Oregon 18,281 28,314 36,027 35,793 33,122 27,249 22,427 21,192 15.9%
Pennsylvania 94,577 86,080 82,721 77,199 74,766 70,576 54,111 46,502 -50.8%
Rhode Island 12,153 7,175 6,495 5,964 5,426 4,662 4,558 4,209 -65.4%
South Carolina 17,637 20,513 15,829 14,488 12,729 11,875 10,170 9,395 -46.7%
South Dakota 2,852 3,212 3,211 3,121 3,054 2,994 3,010 2,963 -3.9%
Tennessee 68,106 62,355 56,131 51,416 45,308 35,986 25,532 21,824 -68.0%
Texas 68,100 49,387 41,929 36,703 31,965 27,553 23,777 21,536 -68.4%
Utah 6,843 7,069 4,897 4,449 4,355 4,033 3,804 3,564 -47.9%
Vermont 4,757 5,751 6,312 6,332 5,760 4,858 3,991 3,743 -21.3%
Virginia 33,959 37,543 33,711 31,124 27,979 25,005 22,045 18,451 -45.7%
Washington 54,556 66,895 51,276 45,522 39,283 32,606 27,145 25,643 -53.0%
West Virginia 11,058 11,193 10,611 9,812 9,198 6,662 7,487 6,903 -37.6%
Wisconsin 18,149 23,710 25,324 26,484 25,947 21,502 16,255 15,578 -14.2%
Wyoming 304 353 360 411 386 384 535 534 -75.7%
U.S. 1,902,442 1,979,893 1,847,761 1,747,820 1,643,194 1,502,056 1,263,045 1,157,321 -39.2%

Note: As noted, this paper’s analysis of state TPR’s uses two-year averages of TANF caseload data so that the data are comparable to the two-year averages we use for state-level poverty data. Additionally, poverty data are not available on a monthly basis. In this table, since we highlight only the monthly average caseload for each year, two-year averages are not needed.

APPENDIX TABLE 4
Black Children Disproportionately Live in States With the Lowest TPRs
  States with TPRs of 10 or Less State Share of U.S. Black Child Population State Share of U.S. White Child Population
Alabama X 3% 2%
Alaska   0% 0%
Arizona X 1% 2%
Arkansas X 1% 1%
California   5% 6%
Colorado   1% 2%
Connecticut   1% 1%
Delaware   1% 0%
Dist. Of Colum.   1% 0%
Florida   8% 5%
Georgia X 8% 3%
Hawaii   0% 0%
Idaho X 0% 1%
Illinois   4% 4%
Indiana X 2% 3%
Iowa   0% 2%
Kansas X 0% 1%
Kentucky   1% 2%
Louisiana X 4% 2%
Maine   0% 1%
Maryland   4% 2%
Massachusetts   1% 2%
Michigan   3% 4%
Minnesota   1% 2%
Mississippi X 3% 1%
Missouri   2% 3%
Montana   0% 0%
Nebraska   0% 1%
Nevada   1% 1%
New Hampshire   0% 1%
New Jersey   3% 2%
New Mexico   0% 0%
New York   6% 5%
North Carolina X 5% 3%
North Dakota X 0% 0%
Ohio   4% 5%
Oklahoma X 1% 1%
Oregon   0% 1%
Pennsylvania   3% 5%
Rhode Island   0% 0%
South Carolina X 3% 2%
South Dakota   0% 0%
Tennessee   3% 3%
Texas X 9% 6%
Utah X 0% 2%
Vermont   0% 0%
Virginia   4% 3%
Washington   1% 3%
West Virginia   0% 1%
Wisconsin   1% 2%
Wyoming X 0% 0%
Total Child Population Shares for States with TPR of 10 or Less 41% 30%

Note: TANF= Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; TPR = TANF-to-Poverty Ratio - Number of poor families with children receiving TANF for every 100 such families. Figures reflect two-year averages for 2017-2018.

Source: The TPR data come from CBPP analysis of poverty data from the Census' Current Population Survey and TANF caseload data collected by CBPP from state agencies. Racial composition analysis based on U.S. Census July 2018 population data.

APPENDIX TABLE 5
Average AFDC-to-Poverty Ratios for States With the Smallest Ratios in 2018 Selected years
  1978-79 1982-83 1986-87 1990-91 1995-96 2017-18
Alabama 49 40 29 35 32 8
Arizona 51 37 37 64 42 6
Arkansas 39 32 26 38 33 5
Georgia 60 51 52 59 82 5
Idaho 48 25 23 26 32 8
Indiana 56 38 47 34 61 6
Kansas 78 53 68 52 52 9
Louisiana 58 41 44 57 48 4
Mississippi 71 49 53 48 39 6
North Carolina 55 40 47 65 74 6
North Dakota 44 29 41 46 48 10
Oklahoma 64 32 36 48 41 9
South Carolina 64 42 52 46 40 10
Texas 31 24 32 45 47 4
Utah 69 35 46 53 59 10
Wyoming 50 29 43 60 45 6
16-state average 55 37 42 49 48 7
National APR/TPR 82 59 65 68 68 22

Note: AFDC = Aid to Families with Dependent Children; APR = AFDC-to-Poverty Ratio; TPR = TANF-to-Poverty Ratio - Number of poor families with children receiving cash assistance for every 100 such families. State figures are two-year average to improve reliability of the data. Data for all years are available in the corresponding excel file found at https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/3-4-20tanf-data.xlsx.

Source: The APR and TPR data come from CBPP analysis of poverty data from the Census' Current Population Survey and AFDC/TANF caseload data collected from the Department of Health and Human Services and (since 2006) data collected by CBPP from state agencies.

End Notes

[1] Maritzelena Chirinos and Nick McFaden contributed to updating this report.

[2] Because our state-level TPRs are based on two-year averages, the latest figures — which average data for 2016 and 2017 — may not reflect the full effects of some state actions between 2016 and 2017. Those effects will likely become clear after another year of data is available.

[3] Though TPRs have fallen both nationally and in every state since 1996, some states’ TPRs have risen in recent years. In 2018, the TPR increased in 15 states. These increases could mean that access to TANF has grown in those states or that the number of families in poverty has fallen faster than caseloads.

[4] CBPP analysis of the U.S. Census 2018 American Community Survey child poverty estimates by race and the TANF-to-poverty ratios.

[5] Ashley Burnside and Ife Floyd, “More States Raising TANF Benefits to Boost Families’ Economic Security,” CBPP, updated December 9, 2019, .https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/more-states-raising-tanf-benefits-to-boost-families-economic-security.

[6] Congressional Research Service, “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF): A Legislative History,” April 2, 2019, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44668.pdf.

[7] “Suitable home,” a provision in ADC law, allowed caseworkers to deny aid based on subjective determinations of a home’s fitness for child rearing. States defined these standards in ways that mostly affected Black families. States wrote “man in the house” rules that cut aid to children if their mother cohabitated with any man who was not the father of the children. These rules did not take into account if the man in question provided financial support to the families. Case workers conducted “midnight raids” in search of any evidence that a man lived in the house and targeted Black families on the program.

[8] Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Sanford F. Schram, Discipling the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

[9] Martin Gilens, “How the Poor Became Black: The Racialization of American Poverty in the Mass Media,” in Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform, University of Michigan Press, 2003, p. 104, https://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/9780472068319-ch4.pdf.

[10] Alan Houseman and Linda E. Perle, “Securing Equal Justice for All: A Brief History of Civil Legal Assistance in the United States,” CLASP, National Equal Justice Library, and National Legal Aid & Defender Association, May 2018, https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2018/05/2018_securingequaljustice.pdf.

[11] Soss, Fording, and Schram.

[12] CBPP analysis of AFDC administrative data.

[13] As noted, this paper’s analysis of state TPR’s uses two-year averages of TANF caseload data so that the data are comparable to the two-year averages we use for state-level poverty data. Additionally, poverty data are not available on a monthly basis. In this section, because we focus only on monthly average TANF caseload trends, two-year averages are not needed.

[14] Some other research shows that those families reaching the TANF time limits have more barriers to employment than other families in the caseload. See Pamela Ovwigho et al., “The TANF Time Limit: Barriers & Outcomes Among Families Reaching the Limit,” Family Welfare Research & Training Group, University of Maryland School of Social Work, November 2007, https://familywelfare.umaryland.edu/reports1/tl_barriers.pdf; and
Kristin Seefeldt and Sean Orzol, “Watching the Clock Tick: Factors Associated with TANF Accumulation,” National Poverty Center, May 2005, http://www.npc.umich.edu/publications/workingpaper04/paper9/04-09.pdf.

[15] Deleena Patton et al., “TANF Caseload Decline: The Well-Being of Parents and Children Leaving WorkFirst in Washington State,” Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Economic Services Administration, April 2015, https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/rda/reports/research-11-216.pdf.

[16] Liz Olson, “Punitive WorkFirst policies disproportionately harm families of color: Program cuts have stark racist impacts,” Washington State Budget & Policy Center, February 21, 2019, https://budgetandpolicy.org/schmudget/punitive-workfirst-policies-disproportionately-harm-families-of-color/.

[17] Tazra Mitchell, LaDonna Pavetti, and Yixuan Huang, “Life After TANF in Kansas: For Most, Unsteady Work and Earnings Below Half the Poverty Line,” CBPP, updated February 20, 2018, https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/life-after-tanf-in-kansas-for-most-unsteady-work-and-earnings-below.

[18] LaDonna Pavetti, “TANF Studies Show Work Requirement Proposals for Other Programs Would Harm Millions, Do Little to Increase Work,” CBPP, November 13, 2018, https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/tanf-studies-show-work-requirement-proposals-for-other-programs-would.

[19] Burnside and Floyd.

[20] CBPP analysis of data from Columbia University Population Research Center and U.S. Census Bureau. Corrections for underreported government assistance from Health and Human Services/Urban Institute Transfer Income Model (TRIM). Calculations use Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) and 2016 SPM poverty line adjusted for inflation.

In earlier editions of this paper, CBPP used a different methodology to calculate these figures. These new estimates use the SPM and the latest available data from the Health and Human Services/Urban Institute TRIM.

[21] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty,” 2019, https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25246/a-roadmap-to-reducing-child-poverty.

[22] Greg J. Duncan and Katherine Magnuson, “The Long Reach of Early Childhood Poverty,” Pathways, Winter 2011, http://www.stanford.edu/group/scspi/_media/pdf/pathways/winter_2011/PathwaysWinter11_Duncan.pdf.

[23] For more details, see LaDonna Pavetti and Liz Schott, “TANF at 20: Time to Create a Program that Supports Work and Helps Families Meet Their Basic Needs,” CBPP, August 15, 2016, http://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/tanf-at-20-time-to-create-a-program-that-supports-work-and-helps.