Fail Again, Fail Worse: Fewer Families Received TANF Cash Assistance in 2020 than in 2019

07/21/2021 12:00am

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the Gingrich-Clinton era “welfare reform,” was signed into law 25 years ago this August. Past research has documented that TANF largely failed to respond to the Great Recession. While the number of families receiving TANF did increase modestly in 2009 and 2010, the increases were so slight that TANF ended up playing “essentially no role in smoothing the income fluctuations experienced by families” during this period.  

Recently updated data on TANF’s performance during the pandemic recession suggest that TANF is on track to “fail worse” this time. As the table below shows, the total number of families in the United States receiving income assistance from TANF actually declined, by 3.5 percent, in 2020. 

Despite Pandemic Recession, Fewer Families Received TANF Assistance in 2020

Average monthly number of families receiving TANF in 2019 and 2020 by state
  2019 2020 Difference: 2020-2019 Percentage Change: 2019-2020
United States 1,096,594 1,057,711 -38,883 -3.5%
Alabama 7,450 7,113 -337 -4.5%
Alaska 2,361 2,234 -127 -5.4%
Arizona 6,964 7,939 975 14.0%
Arkansas 2,415 2,187 -228 -9.4%
California 373,362 344,095 -29,267 -7.8%
Colorado 14,118 13,584 -534 -3.8%
Connecticut 7,897 6,955 -942 -11.9%
Delaware 3,368 2,848 -520 -15.4%
District of Columbia 7,418 7,432 14 0.2%
Florida 38,758 41,426 2,668 6.9%
Georgia 9,149 8,327 -822 -9.0%
Guam 449 452 3 0.7%
Hawaii 4,116 5,690 1,574 38.2%
Idaho 2,027 1,885 -142 -7.0%
Illinois 10,782 10,688 -94 -0.9%
Indiana 5,388 7,167 1,779 33.0%
Iowa 8,900 7,954 -946 -10.6%
Kansas 3,823 3,970 147 3.8%
Kentucky 16,911 15,129 -1,782 -10.5%
Louisiana 4,246 3,403 -843 -19.9%
Maine 15,822 13,112 -2,710 -17.1%
Maryland 16,295 22,554 6,259 38.4%
Massachusetts 49,534 45,604 -3,930 -7.9%
Michigan 11,078 13,566 2,488 22.5%
Minnesota 15,607 16,210 603 3.9%
Mississippi 3,203 2,332 -871 -27.2%
Missouri 9,801 9,486 -315 -3.2%
Montana 3,313 2,792 -521 -15.7%
Nebraska 4,410 4,661 251 5.7%
Nevada 8,098 7,480 -618 -7.6%
New Hampshire 5,243 4,844 -399 -7.6%
New Jersey 8,980 9,453 473 5.3%
New Mexico 9,874 10,995 1,121 11.4%
New York 115,779 115,004 -775 -0.7%
North Carolina 13,435 13,814 379 2.8%
North Dakota 946 999 53 5.6%
Ohio 50,448 52,724 2,276 4.5%
Oklahoma 5,899 5,629 -270 -4.6%
Oregon 35,653 30,785 -4,868 -13.7%
Pennsylvania 40,198 33,806 -6,392 -15.9%
Puerto Rico 4,635 4,244 -391 -8.4%
Rhode Island 3,936 3,172 -764 -19.4%
South Carolina 7,984 7,818 -166 -2.1%
South Dakota 2,912 2,752 -160 -5.5%
Tennessee 19,201 16,478 -2,723 -14.2%
Texas 22,629 20,269 -2,360 -10.4%
Utah 3,227 2,832 -395 -12.2%
Vermont 2,717 2,298 -419 -15.4%
Virgin Islands 107 73 -34 -31.8%
Virginia 17,377 18,402 1,025 5.9%
Washington 36,363 41,055 4,692 12.9%
West Virginia 6,361 5,919 -442 -6.9%
Wisconsin 15,123 15,570 447 3.0%
Wyoming 507 503 -4 -0.8%

Source: CEPR analysis of HHS TANF Caseload Data for 2019 and 2020.

The number of families receiving TANF decreased in 34 states and territories and increased in 16 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. But in most of the states with increases, fewer than 1,000 additional families received TANF assistance in 2020. 

As CEPR has previously documented, working class mothers were particularly hard-hit by the pandemic recession. A well-functioning program designed to increase the economic security of working class and low-income parents would have responded to this crisis by providing more income assistance to more families with children. TANF is a failed experiment. It’s time to repeal and replace it with a real and effective social security program.

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