Taking a Look at TANF on its 20th Anniversary
The welfare reform block grant program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) turns 20 on August 22nd, and that anniversary is not a cause for celebration among advocates for low-income families. Some conservatives have also criticized it, such as Peter Germanis, who wrote that TANF “has failed to provide an adequate safety net or an effective welfare-to-work program.”
The block grant gives states a lot more flexibility, but also significantly less funding and a lot less accountability, and the result has been a sharp decline in support for the families that the federal funds are supposed to assist. The following graph illustrates that the number of Wisconsin families who are receiving direct cash assistance – either for child-only cases or for participation in work programs under Wisconsin Works (W-2) – has dropped to a monthly average of less than 18,700 this year. Read more
Anti-poverty Programs Lift about 830,000 Wisconsinites above Poverty Line
Speaker Ryan and other conservatives are calling for sweeping changes that would seriously weaken safety net programs, and a core argument for those changes is way off the mark.
In early June, Ryan and other House Republicans issued a report about reforming public assistance programs that contends that despite decades of substantial federal spending for safety net programs, “the official poverty rate in 2014 (14.8%) was no better than it was in 1966 (14.7%), when many of these programs started.”
At first blush, that sounds like a compelling argument, but it’s a red herring. Speaker Ryan’s claim is based on the official poverty measure, which seems logical. But that gauge of poverty, established by the Census Bureau in the 1960s, measures cash income only and excludes many forms of public assistance. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out about this poverty measure:
“…it ignores virtually all anti-poverty assistance created or expanded over the past half century, while counting the main form of assistance cut sharply over this period – cash assistance for families with children.
State policy choices contribute to the growing divide in income and wealth between the richest and poorest Wisconsinites. Although most parts of the state and federal tax codes and federal entitlement programs are adjusted (“indexed”) each year for inflation each year, Wisconsin programs that assist low-income households are less likely to be adjusted for inflation. The decision to freeze those forms of assistance means they are steadily eroded over time – to the detriment of struggling low-income workers and their communities.
A recent article by Chris Rickert in the Wisconsin State Journal contrasted the erosion of several forms of public assistance – including Wisconsin Works benefits, the Homestead Tax Credit, and the state minimum wage – with a proposal by some GOP members of the state legislature to periodically adjust campaign contribution limits for inflation. I was reminded of that article by two new reports issued late last week that shed more light on the effects of not adjusting the Homestead Tax Credit and Wisconsin Works: Read more
By Siphoning off More TANF Funding to Pay for the EITC, Committee Undercuts Arguments Against Using Federal Funds
The Joint Finance Committee votes Thursday, May 21, on a wide range of Medicaid issues, including whether to expand BadgerCare and save upwards of $345 million that could help prevent deep cuts in higher education and other parts of the budget. The most frequent argument made by conservatives against capturing that federal assistance is that we shouldn’t accept federal funding that might not be secure. However, if you were carefully watching the Finance Committee’s budget votes last Thursday you would have gotten a very different perspective on the willingness of the majority party to accept federal funding.
There were at least two times last Thursday when the JFC voted to amend the Governor’s budget in ways intended to capture or utilize more federal funding. In one case (motion #345) the committee unanimously approved new standards that will make it easier for the Department of Children and Families to close child support cases. Read more
The Joint Finance Committee will vote Thursday on whether to divert more funds from the federal welfare reform block grant to help finance unrelated parts of the state budget. The amount of those funds transferred to the Department of Revenue (DOR) has already been increased dramatically in each of the last two budgets. $62.5 million per year from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant is being used to replace state funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and that maneuver reduces the funding available for important programs to assist vulnerable low-income families.
According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper (#215) , federal law would allow the state to transfer up to $12.3 million more to DOR in the next biennium, in order to back out state General Fund dollars for the EITC.
Optimally, legislators should decrease the use of TANF funding for the EITC, which is what the Department of Children and Families (DCF) proposed last fall in the budget request they submitted to the Department of Administration. Read more
TANF Funding Squeeze Creates a Substantial Budget Challenge
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) budget proposes a very large cut in the portion of funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit that comes from the federal welfare reform block grant, which is known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Specifically, the department’s 2015-17 budget proposes cutting $55.8 million from the TANF funding that gets transferred to the Department of Revenue, which would mean that state General Purpose Revenue (GPR) has to fill the very substantial gap.
Assuming the Walker Administration isn’t planning to cut the EITC, I applaud DCF for wanting to use state funds rather than TANF funds to finance that credit for low-income working families. Unfortunately, the Department of Revenue (DOR) budget proposal doesn’t currently include an increased GPR appropriation for the EITC. Taking both agency proposals together, we have a $55.8 million hole that needs to be filled by state policymakers, and that problem is on top of the other structural budget challenges that have gotten more media attention. Read more
New Federal Money Provides Chance to Close Large Hole in W-2 and Improve Child Care
Wisconsin got some good news from Washington over the last couple of months, in the form of supplemental federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and additional child care and development funds (CCDF). The plans for using part of that additional funding – $19.8 million from TANF and $3.8 million from CCDF – will be reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on May 6th. (The LFB paper can be found here.)
I’ve written numerous times over the past year or so about the fact that the biennial budget bill made very unrealistic assumptions about declining participation in the state’s welfare to work program, known as Wisconsin Works or W-2. The budget bill cut the W-2 appropriation and siphoned off TANF block grant funding by using it to supplant state funds for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read more
Despite Using Far More TANF Funds for the WI EITC, Total Spending Declines
Today is EITC Awareness Day, when the IRS works with community organizations, elected officials, state and local governments, schools, employers, and other interested parties to spotlight the Earned Income Tax Credit, and to encourage more eligible families and individuals to apply for the credit. The IRS estimates that one fifth of eligible taxpayers fail to claim and get this important credit.
In recognition or EITC Awareness day, let’s take a look at the Wisconsin EITC, including some recently released data showing the declining value of that credit over the past years, and the role of that decline in adding to the state surplus. It’s also a good time to consider the effectiveness of the EITC as a tool for helping make work pay for low-income families.
New LFB Paper Illustrates Why Tapping TANF Funding Appears Unlikely
The Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill today that we strongly support, because it is aimed at expanding a program to provide on-the-job training to low-income people. The only catch is that it isn’t funded, and the prospects for funding it don’t look promising anytime soon.
The bill in question is SB 333, which is part of the package of workforce training bills proposed by the Governor in late September. It authorizes expansion of the Transitional Jobs program, which now only operates in Milwaukee. Transitional Jobs was first implemented several years ago as a pilot program, with funding from the federal Recovery Act. Although that came to an end, the 2013-15 biennial budget bill created a new version of it in Milwaukee, which is now called the Transform Milwaukee Jobs Program. It was allocated $9.9 million from the federal welfare reform block grant known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Read more
Since late spring we’ve been raising concerns that the biennial budget bill cuts funding for the welfare-to-work program known as Wisconsin Works (W-2) based on faulty assumptions. This June 17 paper examines the problem and explains how reducing W-2 spending and shifting federal block grant funds made it easier to cut state taxes in the budget bill.
This week the Walker Administration acknowledged the W-2 shortfall and submitted a plan to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) to narrow the funding gap by $9.6 million. The plan submitted to JFC by the Dept. of Children and Families (DCF) and Dept. of Health Services (DHS) closes part of the gap by using unallocated federal funding known as “income augmentation” revenues. These funds are received by the state as the federal share of state and local spending for things like Targeted Case Management and the Medicaid HealthCheck program.