The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF for short, is one of the more controversial and maligned or one of the most lauded and touted social safety net programs in the United States. Whether it is praised or denigrated depends a lot on who is doing the talking and what their motivations are. TANF has turned in a political football on a scale that dovetails quite nicely with the words of Rawls (1985) when it was noted in an essay of that author that there are sometimes periods (some of them quite long in duration) that are bereft and full of political divisiveness and vitriol (Rawls, 1985).
History of TANF & its Predecessor
A bulk of the TANF program is to provide cash-based payments to needy families who are living in destitution or are otherwise in stark financial peril and how those funds are allocated, to who, for how long and in what amounts is the major issue at hand. This report will focus on the time horizon constraints place on individual recipients and how these limits can be very arbitrary and unfair at times. Regardless, the current benefit amounts and structures are based on the number of people in the household that are eligible, income that is currently available to the household members, allowable work and childcare expenses and other relevant factors like cost of living (TANF, 2013).
TANF is not meant strictly as a means to remove people from poverty but it certainly gets people out of poverty quicker than they could if they did not have the money and it also prevents the depths to which people fall financially, hence the term "social safety net." The amount of benefits may or may not be enough to get by and survive depending on the geography and situation involved. Taxpayers do not suffer because of the funding level of TANF being as low as it is and it is clear, especially with single mothers, that the benefits can be lacking given the cost of education, childcare and transportation in some areas of the country. Areas like California and much of the Northeast, where cost of living is hire, are full of people where TANF amounts do not go nearly as far as they would in areas like Kansas or Texas, where cost of living is lower. The system is not remotely perfect and stands to be perfected and honed in many ways. Very few people are suggesting a full gutting of the system but there are stark differences in views as to how much or how little total outlays should be and who exactly should get them, even as it pertains to the subject of single mothers (Burns, 2010).
TANF actually had a precursor in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) which was actually part of the Social Security Act in the 1930's. Both TANF and AFDC were meant to be part of the "social safety net" whereby people in dire financial straits would be able to receive cash assistance to help meet their needs and pay their fixed bills until they could get employed or otherwise fend for themselves. The AFDC program was sunset in 1997 in favor of the TANF program that replaced it. This changeover is often referred to as in political vernacular as "welfare reform" and the aforementioned cash benefits are often referred to as "welfare." The "welfare reform" package was the result of a triangulation between Democrat President Bill Clinton and a Congress that was largely controlled by Republicans. Many hold that this legislation was a pet project of Republicans and Bill Clinton acquiesced, after prior vetoing the bill for TANF twice, to signing the bill as a way to "reach across the aisle" to Republicans (Payne, 2012). The pattern of Republicans focusing on bottom-line expenditures, perhaps to excess a lot of the time, is nothing new (Spitzer, 2012).
There are four major guidelines that pertain to TANF recipients. First, people receiving TANF are supposed to get a job as soon as they can but must do so within two years of first receiving benefits. There are sometimes exceptions provided to this but this is rare. Single parents must work 30 hours a week. Failure to comply with this guideline can lead to a reduction in benefits or even expulsion from the program. Fourth, and last, states are responsible for enforcement and their funding can be reduced if they do not enforce compliance with the directives above (TANF, 2013).
There has been much action and debate as it pertains to the time limits that should be allowed for in terms of how long a person on the TANF program can reap benefits and the conditions they must meet while they do so. This report will explain what the real issue is, policy alternatives that may work in its place, an introduction to the overall issue at hand, situate the policy issue within a historical context, will include an extensive literature review of the aforementioned policy alternatives (as cited and discussed throughout the report and recommendations) will be explained in the context of projections and the criteria that led to the same. Finally, some recommendations will be offered for the TANF landscape by the author of this report.
Many advocates that are curious and vigilant about the social safety net in the United States are quick to point out that as recently as the 1930's, there was little to nothing in terms of financial safety nets for United States citizens in terms of retirement security and short-term job and other financial challenges. Since that point, many laws have been enacted to counteract that dynamic being what it is including the Social Security Act, Medicare, unemployment assistance and short-term financial support mechanisms such as Women with Infant Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, 2013)(SSA, 2013)(WIC, 2013).
Many say the benefits of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are numerous and that it is the "right thing to do" but the support for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families framework is by no means unanimous. The issue that some people push, whether it is borne ignorance or supposed informed opinion, is that some people ostensibly make it a point to take advantage of every last dollar that they can extract from the United States in the form of welfare. This report shall focus mostly on the plight of single mothers who are receiving TANF and how the current time constraints for TANF are not fair or reasonable when applied against single mothers who lack the means to get educated and/or find a job that will allow them to extricate themselves from poverty (Burns, 2010).
For example, some may suggest that two years is the most that a single mother. However, while some career colleges and other short-length institutions of learning may allow for this to be sufficient, it is by no means recognizing of how long it takes to get a real college degree. For example, an associate's degree is 2 years by itself. Also missed is that a high school diploma is a bare minimum and many TANF single and/or poor mothers do not even have that in their column. The author of this report would use this as just one example of why setting a hard and fast deadline before benefits are to be exhausted for a given single mother and thus no longer available is simplistic, unfair and is obscenely ignorant of the tough road these poor mothers face to be self-sufficient and able to stay out of the social welfare system (Burns, 2010).
The exact same back-and-forth happens all the time relative to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and any other program like it. The argument of critics of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are quick to suggest that people on the program are actively and intentionally abusing it. Prior to the welfare reform of the 1990's in which Congress and then-President Bill Clinton signed reforms into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families framework, there were accusations of people having children, often referred to as "welfare babies," in the name of getting more Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Some states are pushing drug tetss for TANF recipients (Sulzberger, 2010) However, a criticism that is levied against that line of thought, and as noted in the proposal for this research, is that a lot of the talking heads and politicians that are casting aspersions towards single/working mothers have no realistic perspective as to what single mothers and other people in dire financial straits face as far as getting out of said problems and staying out of said problems Burns, 2010)(Sheely, 2012).
As for policy alternatives, there is no great need to re-invent the wheel. The existing program just needs to be refined and re-crafted a bit but at the same time not cutting people off at the knees that truly deserve and need assistance. Before getting into…