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Report: TANF Benefits Vital for PA, But Program Needs Overhaul

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. - This week marks the 25th anniversary of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the cash-assistance program commonly known as TANF, and a new report in Pennsylvania says changes are needed to improve its accessibility.

The Meet The Need Coalition report surveyed current and former TANF recipients about the program and changes they'd like to see. Louise Hayes, supervising attorney at Community Legal Services, part of the coalition, said the people surveyed see the program as a crucial safety net, but added that current benefits aren't helping families rise out of poverty.

"The number one thing that people mentioned is that the grant amount has not increased since 1990," she said. "A family of three has received, in most counties in Pennsylvania, $403 a month to live on. Since 1990, there's been no change for the cost of living."

TANF is the only form of cash assistance for low-income families and pregnant people that allows them to buy diapers, personal hygiene products and other basic necessities.

Rochelle Jackson, founder and director of coalition-member Black Women's Policy Agenda, said it's critical to see the changes needed for TANF from a racial-justice perspective as well. In the Commonwealth, 53% of TANF recipients are Black. Jackson said she believes it's part of a history of systemic racism that's led to Black women, in particular, dealing with discriminatory hurdles that have made it harder to gain employment.

"Black women who wanted to work, and still want to work today, often are not able to work because people will not hire them because of the color of their skin, and their sex," she said. "So, if we are not dealing with all these different aspects of it, do we really want Black women to succeed, right? Are we really creating a program, and a process, that helps them build a pathway to self-sufficiency?"

The report also recommended increasing the asset limit that now disqualifies anyone in Pennsylvania from receiving TANF benefits if they have more than $1,000 in savings. Currently, 65,000 Pennsylvanians are TANF recipients.


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