This blog is the 4th post in a series that will detail how lawmakers have weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the past 20 years, explain why TANF is a cautionary tale rather than a model for other work and income support programs, and map out a better way forward.
As North Carolina and the country continue to contend with elevated poverty levels despite seven years of an economic recovery, many have suggested that the principles of the 1996 reform of welfare (then AFDC, now Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF) should serve as a model for addressing poverty in our state and nation.
The changes, made 20 years ago this week, to the way in which we ensure that people living in poverty can meet their most basic needs and have a pathway out of poverty were based on three core ideas: that work was the pathway out of poverty, that states would know best how to meet the needs of their communities, and that services—from training to marriage counseling—could effectively replace cash assistance. While these ideas may not have been inherently wrong, they resulted in concrete policy directions: time limits, work requirements, block granting and funding for services to agencies over direct payments to poor people.
A review of the evidence suggests that the guiding ideas behind welfare reform fail to deliver better economic outcomes across the board and have in fact increased the number of people living in deep poverty, fallen short in times of economic distress and generated a whole host of unintended and negative consequences because poor households continue to lack income to meet basic needs.
It is these same ideas that have been suggested for every program that seeks to deliver support to low-income households, from food assistance to Medicaid.
Here are the problems with these specific ideas about poverty and the policy choices that stem from them: Read more