How to Fix the Safety Net in PA After “Welfare Reform”

Twenty years ago, “welfare reform” overhauled the nation’s cash assistance program for needy families with children. In ending the entitlement to benefits and creating the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, Congress created very strong incentives for states to reduce their caseloads.

Mending-Safety

The last twenty years of harmful policies and administrative barriers to TANF have made it increasingly difficult for pregnant women and families living in deep poverty in Pennsylvania to access the income supports that they need while they stabilize their lives. While the number of families on TANF has declined significantly in Pennsylvania over the last twenty years, the dramatic caseload decline cannot be attributed to successfully moving poor parents into the workforce.

For every 100 poor families in Pennsylvania, only 31 families receive cash assistance from TANF.  In 2014, at least 35,000 Pennsylvania families with children receiving SNAP were poor enough to qualify for TANF, but did not receive it, according to a new report released by Community Legal Services.

But while the TANF program in Pennsylvania is not working as it should, it can be fixed.  In a new report, Community Legal Services recommends specific, achievable reforms to mend Pennsylvania’s safety net and loosen the grip of poverty on Pennsylvania’s pregnant women, children and families.

Since early 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has made dramatic improvements to the Commonwealth’s safety net for low income families by strengthening its Medicaid and SNAP (formerly food stamp) programs. DHS should be applauded for taking these important steps to improve access to SNAP and Medicaid Now, DHS should take similar, much needed steps to improve access to cash assistance through the TANF program. 

Click here to read the full report, “Mending the Safety Net: Why Pennsylvania Must Restore Its TANF Program to Protect Its Neediest Families.”

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