TANF: The Good and the Bad

By Winnie Eke

There is much to be said about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). In 1996, when TANF was created, some were in favor of the program and others were against it. Today, many still question some state policies in implementing TANF.

Included in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the program was designed to put people back to work and reduce single parent households. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show a decrease in families on TANF from approximately 4.6 million in 2010 to 4.0 million in 2013.

Laura Murphy with the American Civil Liberties Union contends that TANF was not the problem but poverty. Her argument still rings true. Many women, especially women of color are more likely to work in lower-paying jobs, are more likely to be in poverty and need additional help from TANF. TANF does not lift people out of poverty.

Compounding the inhumane treatment of the poor are the TANF policies implemented by various states. Some of these policies, like in Kansas, appear mean spirited and strip people of their dignity. Why does Kansas prohibit the purchase of undergarments with TANF funds but allow gun purchases? Most of the recipients of TANF have children or are children. Do we need policies to dehumanize them more?

TANF is helping. However, more could be done with wage increase, affordable education and child care.

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