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Matt Yglesias posted this map to show that most states contribute hardly any assistance to families with children living in dire poverty. And it does do that. But it shows something else as well: how political differences between states meant different effects on poor people.
TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) is the Clinton-era successor program to what used to be called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, more commonly known as welfare. In the 1990s, legislators of both parties decided they could force those lazy ladies raising kids on a pittance of government assistance to work for their benefits. And also that they should limit families' eligibility to collect any help at all after a period as short as two years. Bureaucratic hoop was intertwined with bureaucratic hoop; many women and families just fell out of the system altogether and got nothing. In good economic times, some of these parents caught on in the most precarious of bad jobs; in bad times, they fell out of the labor force. We see some of them living on the streets today.
The sum the federal government gave the states to pay for TANF was set in the 1990s, and as far as I know never increased. It never was generous and is worth far less today. In any case, the welfare "reform" law was written so that, if states wanted to, they could divert TANF cash to their general funds. So what the map really shows is that most states (yes, the usual suspects) did just that, effectively pocketing a federal windfall nominally meant to help poor people.
How much poor women and their kids were hurt by "reform" came to depend on the political balance of forces in each state. The few dark blue states on the map above reacted to welfare "reform" with policies that were more generous to recipients. To some extent, this came about because poor women fought back. In California, for example, organized welfare recipients won the right to count education at community colleges and in technical programs as "work" for the purpose of keeping eligibility. This seems merely sane, but the 1996 law was so punitive toward those needing assistance that it took battles to win.
No wonder, after 25 years of these sorts of policies, we are ready for President Biden's American Families Plan in some form. It's time for this country to give parents and children a hand.
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It took a few years for a clear picture of the effects of the 1996 welfare law to play out. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by social scientists Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer offers a lively description of the subsequent extreme poverty into which many families fell.