TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is the federal government funded welfare program that is administered at a local level by the states. The federal government gives each and every state a certain amount of money each year to run TANF in their communities. The program use to be called welfare in the 1990s, and since it was reformed back in the 90s the amount of money paid out as welfare has not been increased. The federal government currently spends 16.5 billion per year on this benefit per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
While the 2017 poverty statistics still need to be calculated, it is estimated that around 40 million Americans are currently living in poverty. The Department of Commerce reports that about 4.3 million Americans are currently receiving cash from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), so this means that just over 10% of citizens who live in poverty are enrolled into the TANF welfare program. It is a small fraction of who may be qualified as well. Many people are not aware of the benefit, and find how to apply for TANF assistance.
Why is usage of TANF – welfare so low?
While there are different arguments out there, the consensus seems to be that the amount of federal government funded money given to the states for their welfare programs has not been increased in about 25 years. The amount of 16.5 billion was paid out on an annual basis in the mid 1990s, and the same amount of money was available in 2017 as well. So the program has not kept up with inflation or population growth.
When factoring in the rate of inflation, and the fact that money loses values over the years, the amount of government money allocated to welfare in 2017 is about 40% of what was available in 1990. In other words, 16.5 billion dollars is worth much less today than it was 20+ years ago.
The result of all this is that there is less money to go around. With less money available, fewer families can be assisted by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. This means that the welfare rolls have to be reduced, and that only a small fraction (~10%) of people living in poverty will be able to enroll. Also, as noted, there are often questions on who is qualified and how to enroll. If more information is needed, then find welfare, or TANF, phone numbers by state.
It also does not seem likely that the 16.5 billion figure will ever change. It has not been increased in over 20 years, and with the increased focus on reducing public assistance, focus on self-sufficiency, and other Republican held beliefs coming into play throughout 2017 the fact is that TANF more than likely will not change. This means it will become even harder for Americans to qualify as the pot of money grows smaller over time due to inflation.
Another reason why only 10% of Americans living in poverty are enrolled into TANF as of the end of 2017 is that the program is time limited. You can’t be on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for life. While each state has some flexibility in what they can or can’t do with their federal government funded grant, in general states will only allow TANF to be paid out for at most 60 months during the clients lifetime.
This means that if someone received TANF for 36 months back in the 1990s then they sign up again in the 2000s for another 24 months, now adding those two periods together equates to 60 months. So the person can’t sign up again; they have already hit their 60 month maximum timeframe.
Anyone who is currently on TANF should in some ways feel fortunate they are receiving any cash assistance at all from the government. And for those who may be living in poverty now, and who were hoping to apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, note it will be harder and harder to get any money, and the amounts available will continue to decrease over time.