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OR's Poorest Families Watch TANF Funds Dwindle

May 21, 2010

SALEM, Ore. - The safety net for Oregon's poorest families is starting to fray. The state has used almost $79 million of the $83 million of federal money allocated for TANF programs that provide financial support, job training and child care subsidies to low-income families with children.

As early as today, Congress might vote to extend the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) for another year, as part of a bigger package of legislation.

Joy Margheim, policy analyst for the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), says, statewide, about 3,000 families a month receive cash financial support from TANF, and almost as many get help paying for child care so parents can work. Even so, she says, the families who qualify for TANF are struggling.

"One has to be very poor. For example, a three-person family in Oregon could have no more than $616 a month in income, in order to be eligible."

TANF wasn't set up to meet the increased demands when the recession hit, says Margheim, so the emergency fund was created as part of the Recovery Act. The problem now, she adds, is that the recovery has been slower than Congress anticipated.

"The program has been really struggling to keep up with rising demand. The fact that this Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) was in place allowed the Legislature to restore some cuts that had been proposed because of the budget shortfall."

The extension of the TANF ECF would keep it going through mid-2011. It is part of a larger package of bills, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which also includes extensions for unemployment, COBRA insurance and small business loan programs. It has some opposition from those concerned about costs, but separate versions have already passed in the House and Senate. The new bill is a combination of the two.

OCPP's analysis of the TANF ECF impact in Oregon, "Continue What's Working," is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR