Meager and Diminishing Welfare Benefits

Meager and Diminishing Welfare Benefits

July 30, 2009

Welfare benefits have become even more meager since 1996 federal welfare reform legislation replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children or “AFDC” with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or “TANF” as the national welfare program for families with children. In July 2008 for a family of three, the daily benefit per person was less than $8.00 in all but one state, less than $5.00 in thirty states, and as low as $1.86 in one state (Mississippi).

Benefits this scant perpetuate widespread material hardship for the women and children who rely on TANF to meet their basic needs, now over four million in number. Indeed, even when benefits were somewhat higher than they are now, substantial shares of recipients were reporting hardships such as being forced to move, overcrowding, utility disconnects, not having enough food to eat, inadequate winter clothing, and inability to pay for needed medical care.

Congress must reauthorize TANF by September 30, 2011. This report on TANF benefit levels is the second Legal Momentum report on key TANF reauthorization issues. Our first report, The Bitter Fruit Of Welfare Reform: A Sharp Drop In The Percentage Of Eligible Women And Children Receiving Welfare (PDF), described the drop in the percentage of eligible families receiving benefits from 84% in 1995, AFDC’s last full year, to 40% in 2005, the most recent year for which the number of TANF eligible families is available.

Tim Casey

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