Last week, during my interview with Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte, we spoke at length about a significant change to a local subsidy program for the working poor, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. (TANF).
TANF is a central pillar in the “welfare to work” programs popular in the last two decades which have ideological roots running back as far as the Nixon Administration. It’s a Republican welfare reform program crafted and co-opted by Bill Clinton back in his Triangulation days.
Until recently, the program provided subsidies to families at 200% of the federal poverty level. With the state deficit reaching epic levels, Erie County currently spends nearly $10MM more than allocated to the county by New York State’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Under the new plan proposed by Erie County Executive Chris Collins, the income ceiling for eligibility is lowered to 125% of the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four earning $27,563.00 would be ineligible for the program. This will result in an estimated 1500 children, 42% of current recipients, being removed from the program and their families no longer being able to work. In most cases, those families would then transition back to the direct welfare program.
Last night, there was a public hearing on the proposed reduction of daycare subsidies at the Delavan-Grider Community Center on Buffalo’s East Side. The comments from the community confirmed what many think would be the result of enacting these cuts, a return of many families to the public assistance rolls and an increase in unemployment.
These people do not receive free daycare, they receive a subsidy and pay for the services they need. Without the subsidy, recipients working in low wage service or manufacturing positions simply won’t be able to afford to work.
There have been numerous studies (here’s one from CQResearcher) conducted on whether these workfare programs (or means tested benefits) provide a proper safety net for families or afford them the ability to permanently remove themselves from public assistance. What often works best are a mix of these temporary programs, nutritional subsidies, earned income tax credits and education/job training programs.
We’re now at a point where these programs are being cut and will result in an increase in need for direct welfare and unemployment subsidy. If you’re scoring at home, that’s not a net positive for municipal governments.