Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

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Arizona lawmakers have limited federally funded welfare benefits to the shortest time window in the nation. The restrictions apply to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which provides assistance to low-income families with children. Under the state’s new budget, Arizona will limit TANF benefits to 12 months. Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute released a report about TANF cuts in Arizona. Thom Reilly, director for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU will discuss the findings.

RICHARD RUELAS: Good evening. I'm Richard Ruelas in tonight for José Cárdenas. Arizona lawmakers reduce the lifetime limit for welfare recipients to the shortest in the nation. We'll talk about a report on how the cuts will impact families. And learn about programs and incentives for veterans looking to buy a home. Plus, in sounds of Cultura SOC. A collective of inter-generational students of all ages in the valley learning the tradition of Son Jarocho music. All coming up next on "Horizonte."

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

RICHARD RUELAS: Thank you for joining us. Arizona lawmakers have reduced welfare benefits to the shortest time window in the nation. The restrictions apply to temporary assistance for needy families known as TANF, which provides assistance to low-income families with children. Under the state's new budget, Arizona will limit TANF benefits to 12 months in a life time. Arizona State University's Morrison Institute released a report about TNF cuts. Joining us to talk about the findings is Thom Reilly, director for the Morrison Institute For Public Policy at ASU. Thanks for joining us.

THOM REILLY: Richard, thanks for having me.

RICHARD RUELAS: This went into effect today. Tell us the difference between June 30th and July 1.

THOM REILLY: Well, as of today, Arizona's the first and only state to reduce lifetime eligibility for TANF to one year. Federal law allows for up to five years.

RICHARD RUELAS: And the state was able to make it more restrictive, they're giving some leeway?

THOM REILLY: I think the temporary assistance for needy families was implemented, passed into law by President Clinton in 1996. And it replaced the old AFDC program. Aid for Families with Dependent Children.

RICHARD RUELAS: Clinton, that was the welfare to work program.

THOM REILLY: It was supposed to end welfare as we know it. It had strong bipartisanship support and it took the old program that had no lifetime limits, block granted it and they gave it from the feds to the state, to give states more flexibility but they added two components to it. One is they put strict work requirements in order to be eligible to receive the funds and they set a lifetime limit of five years.

RICHARD RUELAS: So Arizona set that lifetime limit to two years a few years back, and now to one year and lifetime meaning if I'm on it and come off of it, those months count against me, 12 years total is the max. 12 months total is the max.

THOM REILLY: That is correct. I think we look at the program's inception in 1996, I think we see two major trends. One is that over the lifetime implementation of TANF in Arizona, there's been a steady reduction both in benefits and time limits so they started with the five years and steadily have implemented one year. And the money that traditionally has gone towards services with TANF, which has been cash assistance, job training and job preparation and childcare has steadily decreased and those funds have been used for other programs, mainly child welfare.

RICHARD RUELAS: So the money that was supposed to go to help people go from welfare to work has been used to fill those holes in the child --

THOM REILLY: The two explicit functions of TANF, one is to help poor families with children and I want to emphasize the children, these are not single adults, move into the labor force. And the second is to provide assistance when they're not working. So that was kind of what the old AFDC program, what TANF was when it was embodied and if we look at 1998, about 90% of the federal funds for TANF went to job training preparation, cash assistance and childcare assistance. The new budget, it's about 30%.

RICHARD RUELAS: Was the state able to take that money and move it to child welfare --

THOM REILLY: Part of the negotiation of moving it from the federal government to the state government was to give states the flexibility to use those funds in a more flexible manner. So what Arizona has done over the years is that it's primarily used those funds to plug the holes to support child welfare. So in 1998, for example, about 6% of all those funds went to child welfare. Today, it's about 65%. So what we see is a diverging of the original intent of TANF over the years going from 90% to 30% and instead, lawmakers using that to support child welfare system.

RICHARD RUELAS: Is there a correlation, I mean I know you've said the money has shifted focus, is there a correlation into us not spending the money on job training and the need for more assistance in the department of child services? The child welfare agency?

THOM REILLY: I think there's two issues. One is that clearly one year lifetime limit for families who are eligible is a challenge in order to move into the workforce, which is the whole intent of TANF and keep in mind, Arizona's eligibility to receive these funds is pretty low. So in order to be eligible to receive TANF, a family of four has to meet the 1992, 36% of the 1992 federal guidelines, which is about $5,022 a year. So the threshold is pretty low.

RICHARD RUELAS: Family of four, annual income $5,000 a year?

THOM REILLY: To be eligible.

RICHARD RUELAS: To be eligible for the program.

THOM REILLY: So one is that in order to help move these families, less and less money is being put into job preparation and childcare in order to assist when they're looking for work and being trained. Plus, this last budget about $4 million was cut from the childcare subsidy which has further makes it more challenging for some of these families. But the second issue going back is moving these moneys to child welfare. I think it would be hard to argue that child welfare in Arizona is not in a spiral downhill. Basically, up at the top in the nation in child removals and we rank by a far percentage change in putting kids in foster care. The main reason for the spiral or the increase in foster care is neglect. So these programs are not -- they're interrelated. They're not separate programs and so clearly to remove a child from their home under Arizona law, there has to be maltreatment but you can't neglect families that don't have the means to take care of their children, which is I would argue and suggest is that by cutting these types of programs, it's exacerbating the child welfare system because families don't have the resources to care for their children.

RICHARD RUELAS: Is there research to show that because we've cut money here to help poor families, we're seeing the result being more children being taken away?

THOM REILLY: I think it's a culmination. It's not just a simple black-and-white issue but if you look at what is needed to support families? They need resources and what many of the social workers are finding in child welfare is that they don't have the type of resources to support families and keep children in the home.

RICHARD RUELAS: Okay. The savings. Since this is federal money. There's some state matching?

THOM REILLY: There's a federal block grant and a maintenance of effort that the state has to put in there.

RICHARD RUELAS: Part of it is going to be a state lawmaker would say we needed to tighten our belts. How much savings?

THOM REILLY: Over a $9 billion budget, they saved $6 million. It wasn't a large amount of dollars to move from the 24 months to 12 months.

RICHARD RUELAS: And finally, when will we know if this experiment has worked? What can we track a year from now?

THOM REILLY: I think there's been studies out there looking at long-term trends that after the one year or the two years, what happens to families? Some of those families are still eligible for Medicaid or snap or food stamps. What happens when they can't turn elsewhere? and in Arizona, that is a study that needs to be looked at. But there are fewer options for those families.

RICHARD RUELAS: Is there any evidence that this provides sort of a feet to the fire mentality that I only have a year of this program so I better go find a job?

THOM REILLY: If they can find work. I want to stress, too, is that this isn't single individuals or adults. These are adults with children and families. And so the impact is pretty sweeping.

RICHARD RUELAS: I guess if you're -- if you have an adult with children, maybe the feet are already to the fire, I guess.

THOM REILLY: Family of four, $5,000 a year, in order to be eligible for the program, too, and having job training and the childcare assistance being cut makes it more challenging to find that work.

RICHARD RUELAS: Thanks for joining us. On your way out the door, book yourself for a year from now so we'll see how this program worked.

THOM REILLY: Thank you for having me.

RICHARD RUELAS: Absolutely.

Thom Reilly: Director for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU

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