A quarter of a century after President Bill Clinton enacted welfare reform, recipients and advocates alike say Pennsylvania’s interpretation of the law traps families in dire poverty.
But there are ways to change this.
The Meet the Need Coalition interviewed more than 350 current and past recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, in Pennsylvania about their experiences. The program provides cash assistance to pregnant people, parents of underage children, survivors of domestic violence and children who live with relatives other than their parents, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. Recipients must be looking for work or attending vocational courses to be eligible.
These survey responses are compiled in a new report, with recommendations for updating the service. The Meet the Need coalition is made up of the Philadelphia Community Legal Services, Black Women’s Policy Agenda, Fair Harvest, and the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.
“We have long been very concerned about the very, very low TANF benefit levels in Pennsylvania,” said supervising lawyer Maria Pulzetti of Community Legal Services.
Pennsylvania has not changed the amount of cash assistance it provides since 1990, before the program was renamed TANF. The most common reward amount, $ 403 per month for a family of three, provided 43% of the federal poverty level in 1990, but by 2021, recipients are only 22% of the federal poverty level.
This amount, combined with other restrictions, makes the program cumbersome for beneficiaries and less effective as a benefit to help people get back on their feet.
Duprene Johnson, 50, of North Braddock, took part in the investigation because she received the TANF two decades ago, while submitting to Temple University.
“It was a little, it wasn’t a lot,” Duprene said of the $ 150 payments she recalled receiving every two weeks when she received the benefit. Getting out of it, she said, “was difficult.”