Poverty Policy: 20 Years After Welfare Reform

Poverty Policy: 20 Years After Welfare Reform


[Student] We’re trying to get to this understanding of what welfare reform has achieved and what it hasn’t in the last 20 years. Historically, a lot of poverty measures have talked about participation; you know, does someone’s income allow them to participate in their society? So with that, I’ll turn it over to our moderator. [Jonathan Morduch] The moment that arose 20 years ago — yeah, 20 years ago — was a recognition that times have changed, and we needed something different. This is the moment: 1996, ending welfare as we know it. The start of something called TANF meant to provide resources nationally. Every state got to figure out exactly how they could craft the implications of the bill and use the resources. It was also time-limited, which was another big step. The poverty rate in America hasn’t moved very much.
107 million live under twice the poverty line. After welfare reform, hasn’t shown much movement in those basic figures. This is the increase in the percentage of adults receiving SSDI benefits, and this is SNAP. The blue line, the share of families on SNAP, is moving also with the extent of poverty. Is this a good program that has been underfunded? Or, is this a program that, despite funding, needs rethinking? [Ajay Chaudry] One thing that welfare reform got right is it made social policy more consistent with our values. TANF, as much as we’re going to spend time on it, is really a small and shrinking program. Actually, the school lunch program brings more kids out of poverty then TANF currently does. It doesn’t really provide temporary assistance to needy families. Only twenty-three percent of those who would be income eligible even walk in the door to try to receive it. [Robert Hawkins] Where I think TANF might have done a lot of good is around the issue of childcare as a vehicle for work. Now, did it do it particularly well?
I don’t think so. Was there a lot of money attached to it?
I don’t think so. But it did put the emphasis on work, which people listened to, and it created a vehicle that allowed people to work, even temporarily. There are a couple of states that have been in the news. Arizona is limiting their welfare recipients not to five years, but one year. Kansas is only allowing a $25 withdrawal at a time — a day — from the ATM machine. What I’m seeing is these tighter restrictions that are designed to make welfare recipients uncomfortable; designed to make it so that they don’t even apply for welfare. [Anglea Rachidi] TANF is part of the safety net, and it’s an important part. It’s really the safety net of last resort That twenty-three percent number that you mentioned is the percent of people receiving TANF who are in poverty. Well, poverty includes people who have income. If you have income, you likely are not going to be receiving TANF, to be honest; you likely are going to be receiving SNAP and you’re going to be receiving the EITC. So, TANF is really there for people who have no other income, and from that perspective I think that — again, a few states are definite outliers — for the most part, TANF is still available to those families in many states. And, to the last point that was mentioned about it not being an anti-poverty policy, I have the completely opposite perspective. To me, it definitely is an anti-poverty policy because it promotes work. If it gives that final motivation for people to get back into the labor market with childcare, with transportation help — which is all available, at least in New York City — that, to me, is a good anti-poverty policy. There’s problems that need to be addressed to get at the outlier states, that’s for sure. But for the most part, I think TANF does still serve a purpose, and it serves a valuable purpose to
the people who really need it. [Jonathan Morduch] Thank you for your engagement, your questions. Thank you.

Daniel Yohans

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