Vanishing Assistance for Needy Families
TANF, apparently, is a misnomer. CalledTemporary Assistance for Needy Families, the program is meant to provide ashort term safety net for those who need it most. Aimed at the lowest-incomefamilies with children, TANF presumably should help more of them when theeconomy is in the tank. During the Great Recession, however, TANF has failed todeliver in a number of states, just when struggling families need it most. Itcould be that a more apt name for the program in those states is VANF theVanishing Assistance for Needy Families program. As spelled out in a new set ofstate-by-state factsheets from the Center on Budget and Policy Priority “TANF Responded Unevenly to Increase in Need DuringDownturn,” TANF grew by 13 percent nationally between December 2007 and December2009; yet, in some states, the response to increased need has been negligibleor naught. In fact, six states had caseload declines.
A chilling result of the failure of theTANF program to adequately respond to family need is an increase in deeppovertythat is, families living with incomes that are below half the poverty line. Deep poverty isabout $9,000 a year for a family of three. The disturbing news is that theshare of poor individuals in deep poverty is the highest ever recordednearly44 percent.
Unemploymentdoubled between 2007 and 2009. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,formerly known as food stamps, responded by growing 45 percent during that sameperiod. TANF, too, should snap into action during a recession and help morefragile families. Instead, TANF is a name that too often taunts those whogenuinely need temporary assistance but can۪t get it.
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