The Trouble with TANF in Arizona

By: Eleni Fujiwara

As we look back this past year, we examine what has been and we look to see what could be. An examination of Arizona’s policies regarding the Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program (TANF) has many waiting in anticipation to what the new year will bring. The TANF program was created through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.[1] The TANF program provides temporary cash benefits and supportive services to the neediest of Arizona’s children and their families.[2]  In order to be eligible for TANF, a families income may not exceed either 100% or 130% of the current federal poverty level, depending of the household situation.[3]

 

In 2016 the Arizona legislature became the first and only state to approve a one-year lifetime limit on cash assistance for families receiving aid from the Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program (TANF).[4]  This is a one-year reduction from the previous two year assistance.[5] In comparison, federal law allows a state to keep a family on TANF for up to five years, Arizona over the years has chosen to drastically reduce this aid to one year.[6] The reduction in assistance means an estimated 2,500 people, including 1,500 children, will no longer qualify for even the most modest stipend the program provides, that’s $278 a month.[7] With the recent legislation cuts in TANF, one is to wonder, why would the legislation approve such a reduction when Arizona has one of the highest poverty rates in America.[8]

 

With the reduction in TANF, one would be worried about what the Arizona legislation may reduce next. Other state programs that provide aid to Arizona low-income families are the  Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), Child Care subsidy, KidsCare, and the School-tuition scholarship.[9] So what can the Arizona legislation do in 2017 to offset the reduction in timely aid to needy families? Raise the amount of cash assistance.

 

Since 2015, nine states have raised TANF benefit levels, increasing the median state benefit from $429 to $432.[10] Although the raise in benefits does not appear to be much, it is a step in the right direction. Arizona would fair well to follow in the steps of the some the states to improve the amount and years provided by their TANF programs. TANF was created to aid needy families during times when they are striving to find stability for their families, Arizona’s 2016 recent reduction in TANF will only provide pressure and uncertainty to needy families. We can only hope that the Arizona legislators will examine the fault among its own doing and change it quickly before Arizona families find themselves in a direr situation.

[1] Policy Basics: An Introduction to TANF. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. June 15, 2015.

[2] https://des.az.gov/content/cash-assistance-overview

[3] Id. The 130% of the current poverty level is for families in which the head the of household is a non-parent relative requesting Cash Assistance only for the dependent children. The 100% of the current federal poverty level is for all other families.

[4] Glenn, Sydney. “Arizona first to establish lifetime limit on cash assistance program.” Cronkite News Service. http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2015/10/19/arizona-first-state-lifetime-limits-financial-assistance-cns/73818446/ http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2015/10/19/arizona-first-state-lifetime-limits-financial-assistance-cns/73818446/. October 21, 2015.

[5] Pitzl, Mary Jo. “Arizona limits poverty aid to 1 year; strictest in U.S.” The Republic, http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/arizona/2016/07/01/arizona-limits-poverty-aid-1-year-strictest-us/86499262/. July 1, 2016.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Bice, Alice. “Poverty rates in Arizona still among nation’s highest.” Cronkite News, http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/economy/2016/09/16/poverty-rates-arizona-still-among-nations-highest/90495336/. September 16, 2016.

[9] Pitzl, Mary Jo. “You might be surprised what qualifies as ‘poor’ in Arizona.” The Republic, http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/arizona/2016/08/08/arizona-what-is-poor-poverty/86353186/ August 8, 2016.

[10] Stanley, Megan. “TANF Cash Benefits Have Fallen by More Than 20 Percent in Most States and Continue to Erode.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. October 17, 2016.

The states that have raised TANF benefits include, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wyoming, and District of Columbia.

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