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NASW disappointed with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, urges reforms

NASW STATEMENT:

Missouri mother Anna Sommer struggled to care for her two small children on monthly income from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Photo courtesy of the Springfield News-Leader.

Missouri mother Anna Sommer struggled to care for her two small children on monthly income from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Photo courtesy of the Springfield News-Leader.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is disappointed the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which marks its 20th anniversary this week, is not meeting its original goal to “end welfare as we know it” and needs reforms so it can better serve families who are low income.

President Clinton signed TANF into law in 1996 as a replacement for the much maligned Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

TANF was the signature program in a welfare reform initiative aimed at transitioning heads of households from receiving AFDC cash benefits to gainful employment. TANF recipients would remain in the program for a limited number of years and then families would no longer receive assistance.

From the onset there was concern TANF would not deliver on its objective to move more recipients to employment. There was also worry that punitive actions taken against recipients who failed to find work would create a hole in the financial safety net for families who were low income.

There is an emerging national consensus that TANF today is not a model to reduce poverty. The program’s role as a safety net is also far less significant than when it was first enacted and the program serves a small percentage of families who are low income.

NASW has a strong and unwavering commitment to economic justice and the maintenance of the financial safety net for low income families with school-aged children. NASW’s recommendations to strengthen TANF so it better serves these families include:

  • Increasing support for working families. In all but a few states the amount of the TANF benefit is less than half of the official poverty line.
  • Expanding the definition of work under TANF to include higher education, English as a second language courses, literacy, vocational training and elementary and secondary education.
  • Addressing barriers that keep people participating in TANF from being employed, including physical and mental illness, disabilities, substance abuse, and domestic and sexual violence.
  • Including financial incentives for states that significantly reduce child poverty and lift sanctions that deny aid to children whose parents engage in activities deemed inappropriate.
  • Restoring federal funding for assistance to documented immigrant populations.

Despite NASW’s disappointment, it is not helpful to highlight TANF’s failures. It is more important to work with others on seeking solutions to the challenges to achieving true welfare reform.

With that in mind, NASW sees the 20th anniversary of TANF as an opportunity for NASW and other advocates for economic justice to join federal and state governments to implement TANF reforms.

4 comments

  1. If we focus on the aspects of this program that didn’t work, couldn’t we use this data to determine how to improve the services for better outcomes? What outcomes were expected as a result of this program?

  2. Another consideration for improving TANF is making available low cost childcare so that parents can afford to work. Having a liveable wage is also a critical issue. I have seen many families with parents who work multiple jobs to meet their family’s needs. Having to work so many hours leads to many negative consequences for a family.

  3. Jobs would be the obvious answer to this. Decent paying jobs. But we can’t seem to find a way to impact that elephant in the room.

    • More jobs will come back to the U.S. when we decrease the rate on corporate taxes and get the unions out of the workforce. American companies cannot afford to operate here when they have to raise the price of goods and services to meet taxation and union organizers’ demands.

      I know many on this blog will frown when I mention healthy free-market competition among businesses to increase profits which lead to more jobs, better pay and lower prices for goods and services. We can attack that “elephant in the room” but it should be private industry doing so without government interference.

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