Black women with children barred from federal cash assistance program, report says

WASHINGTON — A new research paper examined how each state implemented a federal program that provided cash assistance to low-income families for the past 25 years — and found that black women with children were excluded from many times.

In a call with reporters Wednesday, policy experts from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained how states can remove restrictive requirements for black families to receive cash assistance for food, bills or rent. .

Experts also detailed ways in which the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program can refocus its programs to help Black women with children who have historically been excluded from federal cash assistance programs due to policies. sexists and racists.

“Recognize the ways in which racist views of black women [influence] the basic design of the current TANF program is the first step in redesigning TANF “to be anti-racist,” said Ife Floyd, one of the report’s researchers and TANF’s director of research and analysis at the Center on Budget. and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

Floyd said it was important to understand that many of the TANF requirements put in place when it was signed into law in 1996 were based on racist ideas about black families that had long been in place in other federal policies.

Historically, black women with children have been kicked out of federal welfare programs for reasons such as being single and working in domestic or agricultural fields, among other racist policies, according to the document.

For example, a predecessor program created by the New Deal in 1935, Aid to Dependent Children, was intended to provide states with federal funding to help single mothers. Southern members of Congress lobbied to give local and state governments the power to control ADC benefit levels and eligibility, which led to the exclusion of black women with children.

Georgia and other states created “suitable home” laws that targeted black mothers by barring them from receiving ADC benefits if they were unmarried. In Louisiana alone, this cut benefits 6,000 black children, according to the report.

But the assistance a family receives today is still tied to the state of residence.

The federal government gives states about $16.5 billion a year for TANF and states are required to provide at least $10.3 billion a year as part of the sustaining effort, which means that they must also continue to spend some of their own money.

The Congressional Research Service estimates that more than one million families participate in the TANF program.

LaDonna Pavetti, vice president of family income support policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said only a few states have increased the amount of cash benefits for families. For example, New Hampshire provides a family of three with $1,098 in monthly cash benefits and increases these benefits each year.

“These differences highlight the underlying racism of the program and why, ultimately, it doesn’t serve families well,” she said.

There are no federal rules that determine the amount of TANF benefits paid to families – that amount is determined solely by the states. The maximum TANF benefit in Georgia is $280 per month for a family of three, well below what it takes to bring a family above the poverty line ($1,810 per month).

Some other states with higher monthly benefits for a family of three include Wisconsin at $653, Maryland at $677, Montana at $588, Minnesota at $532 and New Jersey at $454.

There are currently 17 states that offer the same amount of benefits as when the program was launched or less compared to 25 years ago. Pavetti said that when factoring in inflation as well as rising housing prices and rents, “those benefits in those states have lost 40% or more of their purchasing power.”

Tennessee, which is one of the states with the lowest benefits, offers a family of three $185 per month.

The program also reaches few families, according to the states. In Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and North Carolina, among others, states reach a maximum of 10 families per 100 people living in poverty.

“A theme that emerged is that black families are more likely than white families to live in states with the weakest programs,” Pavetti said, adding that those states have the weakest benefits. “They serve the fewest families and they spend the least of their TANF funds to help families meet their basic needs.”

The document outlines several policy changes that could help black women with children.

This includes establishing a federal minimum benefit so families do not fall below a certain income and eliminating mandatory work requirements and behavioral requirements, as well as using the TANF program to help families to “deal with immediate crises and improve long-term well-being. ”

Floyd said black and brown families were routinely cut out of the program due to behavioral requirements such as frequent drug testing, and that Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card restrictions “make the program unworthy. for many parents.

“However, over the past 25 years, states have created policies even more punitive than those outlined in federal laws, and these policies often have a disproportionate impact on Black families,” according to the newspaper.

Pavetti said if states still want to implement employment requirements, they should make sure those requirements “will promote racial equity, rather than relying on racist ideas.”

“It’s something where I think hopefully we’ll see some movement on states thinking more about what flexibility they have and how they can maximize the use of it, so that they can really make TANF part of a solution to end racism rather than somehow continuing the racist ideas that are embedded in some federal structures,” she said.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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