Protecting Families in Need

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was designed to provide financial assistance to families with income constraints because research has shown that direct cash assistance to families improves short- and long-term outcomes associated with education, health and employment.1 At this time, low-income households need direct cash assistance now, whether it be for housing, food, clothes, medicine or disinfectants, etc. But states have diverted much of these federal funds to other purposes. Of southern states’ total, TANF allocation of $3.7 billion, only 18.4 percent went to basic assistance to poor families.2 In the South, there are 18 million people with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty threshold. States should prioritize TANF to meet the critical needs of low-income households by leveraging this program to increase benefits and coverage. First, states can reduce the administrative barriers to lessen eligibility requirements to ensure comprehensive coverage of the non-employed population. Second, states should reallocate the highest possible level of current federal and state TANF dollars toward direct cash assistance in order to increase the benefit amount to maintain subsistence and prevent the deepening of poverty. The allocation of 90 percent of current federal and state TANF spending levels would increase direct cash assistance dollars by 490 percent to $3.3 billion in the South.3