TANF needs more accountability and better funding

Former Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre was in the news for likely to receive More than $1 million in Temporary Assistance Funds for Needy Families (TANF) aimed at helping low-income families in Mississippi. Favre scandal is only the latest in Long series of scandals Surrounding Mississippi’s Misuse of Welfare Funds.

While some have gleefully applied the same “Queen of Luxury” designation to Favre as it has been applied to Linda Taylor Five decades ago, it was The Washington Post editorial board The occasion is used to refer to some of the broader structural issues that have plagued TANF federal funding since Social Welfare Reforms 1996.

The Board touched on two distinct issues — one relating to federal oversight and one relating to federal support — that merit further exploration.

“The food there is terrible…”

The Post’s editorial board rightly notes that lax oversight and opaque standards from the federal government have led to a situation where federal TANF grants have been turned into an “opaque, opaque fund for states.” A relatively small percentage of TANF funds reach families as basic cash assistance. The rest of the money is drained for other social policy goals. Between 1997 and 2020, the share of funds used for cash assistance I retreated From 71 percent to 22 percent.

Some progressives point to spending on initiatives favored by Republicans to boost marriage or crisis pregnancy centers — or, in Favre’s case, the old imp — as examples of why we’ve seen a decline in cash assistance. The truth is that only a small percentage of TANF dollars are used for these ends.

Recent search from Zach Barolin It highlights trends in government spending priorities over time. It found that spending on employment facilitation programs and other services exceeded cash assistance as a proportion of total TANF spending. The first includes employment benefits, education/training, childcare assistance, and refundable tax credits. The last category consists of different types of spending on social services. Spending on single maternity discouragement programs has increased, but typically makes up less than 7 percent of total spending.

Figure 1. TANF Expenditure by Category 1997-2014

source: Socioeconomic review

The Favre scandal received attention because it was an egregious misuse of TANF funds. But before this last period of wasting, TANF funding in Mississippi was likely to be withdrawn for what most would consider reasonable ends such as job support, education/training and childcare.

“…and the portions are too small”

The editorial board also correctly notes that federal funding has been greatly diminished over time. Because the value of the block grant is not inflation-adjusted, it has lost about 40 percent of its real value since 1997. This erosion is exacerbated by the fact that it has not adjusted for population size, leaving fewer dollars to cover more children over late the time.

These issues are particularly problematic for Mississippi because of the way Congress initially built TANF block grants back in 1996. As I explain in “Rich country, poor country“State allocations for the new block grant are based on an old matching formula that effectively gives rich states at the expense of poor ones. All states may have seen their federal TANF grant shrink over time, but states like Mississippi started from a much lower baseline.”

Figure 2. Expenditure map per child

source: data envelope

As a result of these shifts, Mississippi receives a fraction of the federal per-child funding that rich states receive from the same grant. New York, which is twice as wealthy as Mississippi, receives nearly five times as much for each child. The disparity is so great that even if Mississippi spends its entirety of its federal TANF funding on cash assistance, it still can’t spend as much per child as New York does now.

Time for a cross-party deal on TANF?

As with past welfare scandals, the initial reaction on the right will be to take a tough stance on waste, fraud and abuse in the program, while those on the left will demand more resources.

Among the Republicans, the Jobs Law It may take important initial steps to increase accountability by limiting state spending on basic basic assistance and employment to at least 25 percent of total spending. In addition, the programs will be limited to serving families that are no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The bill would also reform reporting requirements, but it does nothing to reverse grant erosion or unfair allocation.

Among Democrats, the focus has been on Increase the block grant value Without fully addressing privatization issues or funding leaks for questionable programs. Increasing funding without addressing the crowding out source of cash assistance is a recipe for disaster.

Effective reform will require addressing the lack of accountability in government spending as well as diminished funding and inequality in the allocation of TANF funds across states. Providing support to our most vulnerable families is critical to allowing partisan crises to stand in the way of TANF reform.

image credit: iStock

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