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Inadequate and Inconsistent TANF Funding is Driving Families into Homelessness, New Research Finds

Interactive mapping tool demonstrates shortcomings of TANF program

Boston, MA (February 6, 2014) - Funders Together to End Homelessness has launched an interactive mapping tool that demonstrates the shortcomings of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in preventing family homelessness in the United States.

tanf_map.png“In every state, families that rely entirely on TANF payments for income cannot cover the cost of their rent,” said Anne Miskey, Executive Director of Funders Together to End Homelessness. “We know that TANF can help to prevent family homelessness if it is funded and administered in a better way, and now is the time to make those changes.”

TANF does not serve the most vulnerable families

TANF, which was created in 1996 as part of a major overhaul on the welfare systems in the United States, serves very few poor families. Only one in four families living below the federal poverty line receive TANF benefits. This is in part due to an inconsistent implementation of TANF across the country. Payments to families in need vary greatly from state to state. For example, TANF covers 85.6% of Fair Market Rent (FMR) in Wisconsin but only 24.4% of FMR in Mississippi.

TANF has not adjusted for inflation since 1996

The value of TANF payments has eroded over time as most states have not adjusted for inflation since 1996. In 16 states, TANF payment levels have remained completely static. For example, in 1996 in New Jersey, a single parent family of three could receive a maximum TANF payment of $424. Today, a family in New Jersey still receives $424.

In some states, TANF payment levels have not been adjusted for inflation and decreased in dollar amount. For example, a single parent family of three in Arizona could receive $347 in 1996. In 2013 a family in Arizona could only receive $278. Washington saw a similar decrease from $546 in 1996 to $478 in 2013.

Some states have increased the dollar amount of TANF payments, but most of these adjustments have been marginal. Where states have made more significant adjustments, vulnerable families are still falling through the cracks. In Wyoming, which has increased TANF payments over the years, only 4 out of 100 families living in poverty actually receive TANF payments today.

We can improve TANF

“Philanthropy and government must work together to ensure that TANF protects our most vulnerable families and allows these families to get ahead. TANF should not be a program that leaves families struggling to survive,” Miskey said.

Funders Together supports five specific changes to TANF:

1. Adjust TANF levels to account for inflation and cover the cost of rental housing. TANF payments do not cover Fair Market Rent (FMR) in any state. In 17 states, TANF payments for a family of three cover less than 40% of FMR for a two-bedroom apartment. This means that families cannot even afford to pay half of their rents, let alone other basic living expenses.

2. Use TANF funds to provide emergency housing assistance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF can be used to help families move into housing as quickly as possible after they become homeless. This would minimize the impact of homelessness on children and provide stability for parents as they look for work.

3. Remove administrative barriers that exclude families from TANF. Otherwise eligible families can be denied benefits for reasons such time limits. States have the flexibility to design and implement TANF, and should use this discretion to remove barriers that exclude the most vulnerable families from TANF.

4. Use TANF to offer meaningful job training and opportunities, so that families can lift themselves out of poverty. TANF should strive to provide opportunities for families to work and eventually exit the TANF program. To accomplish this, TANF funds should be used for job training, coaching, and other support services.

5. Strengthen the connections between housing and employment services. Many of the adults in vulnerable families want to work, but face barriers like low levels of education, limited work experience, poor health, lack of transportation and childcare, and criminal records. By improving connections between TANF and other programs that could support these things or help reduce barriers, we can streamline and coordinate services for families.

Funders Together to End Homelessness is the only national network for funders working to end homelessness. Funders Together promotes a catalytic approach to philanthropy that goes beyond effective grant-making to active civic engagement in solving homelessness. For more information, please visit www.funderstogether.org.


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