Legal Momentum recently released a nationwide look at the effect of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payment levels: Meager And Diminishing Welfare Benefits Perpetuate Widespread Material Hardship For Poor Women And Children. The study found that the TANF program was insufficient, even when combined with Food Stamps, in helping families move from poverty. TANF families have difficulty in purchasing adequate food, paying rent or meeting other basic essentials. The report concluded:
'As well as perpetuating widespread hardship while families are receiving benefits, TANF’s meager benefits imperil children’s future. There is a substantial body of research finding that poverty during childhood hinders development and has deleterious effects continuing into adulthood.'
In the most recent round of budget cuts, the District withdrew a small, but important increase in the payment level for persons who rely on the program for income. Despite persistent and extreme poverty, the District’s cash welfare payment is lower than that of 24 states. The payment is nearly the same as it was in 1994 -- $428 for a family of three (just $2 above the national mean, even though the costs of living are higher in DC than most of the nation). Families whose sole income is TANF live at 29% of the federal poverty level. A Food Stamp grant will only raise the family to 56% of poverty. With one in three DC children being raised in a family with an income below federal poverty, an increase in the TANF payment would be a good investment in the lives of these children and the future of the city. The recent cut may well have been “penny-wise and pound foolish.”