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Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: An Analysis of Particulars

Updated on April 27, 2012

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act attempts to address one of the most pervasive problems we face as a country.Our struggling economy has become a vicious partner in the cyclic perpetuance of poverty leading to increased rates of unemployment, rises in welfare recipients and poverty levels along with an ever increasing number of old-age beneficiaries to the Social Security Fund.How can a governmental body manage such an ever changing and fluctuating society?What is the history associated with poverty around the world?Finally, what is the main cause of poverty? This paper will attempt to answer these questions with the intent of creating more effective solutions to this social issue.

To understand something on a sociological level the history of the issue must first be understood.Poverty and its roots can be found as far back as man existed in his homo-sapien form.Yet there are defining factors that perpetuate it depending on the environment where you live.In the United States I would say it is safe to assume that poverty came with the first people who established themselves here. In the early years of our country a majority of the people migrating to early-America were doing so to escape poverty in in their home country.As labor was in shortage most came here to find work and establish themselves in the land of opportunity only to arrive and be sold into indentured servitude.These were the first “poor” people in the United States.

For 200 years plantation owners and others used slave labor for workers.The slaves’ owners were responsible for providing shelter, food and clothing to the indentured servant in exchange for labor.Considering the way with which the labor was acquire and the level of compensation there of it is reasonable to assume that the same drive for profit behind slavery would also be present in the slave owner meeting the requirement s of the slave contract.As a result of this most slaves were fed a minimal amount of food, often scraps, provided less than adequate shelter and punished them for speaking or acting out in opposition to it.

It would seem that throughout our history the theme behind poverty is the need and quest for increasing profits at the expense of the workers and the consumer.In today’s society it is much the same.One outstanding difference is that human slavery requires the slave owner to provide them with their basic human needs, in today’s society we are required to provide them for ourselves. Yet the paradigm of “less for you, so I can have more” is still the same.The result is a fluctuating, unstable and unequal economy.

Of course there are many contributing factors that have a role in creating poverty in different pockets of society such as available resources, labor, housing availability and the price of services and goods.However the prevalent cause is and always will be the need for financial gain and until the mentality shifts from an individualistic survivalist approach to a community and country based approach there will always be unnecessary poverty.

One way in which this problem has been combated in the United States was the enactment of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in replacement of Aid to Families with Dependent Children in (AFDC) in 1996. (HHS, 2012) The policies objectives are stated as:

·assisting needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes;

·reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage;

·preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and

·encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families (HHS, 2012)

These objectives at face value could be seen as helpful yet what are the covert objectives?The reality is that all the policy is doing is maintain a level of support geared toward strategic placement into the labor force.The program offers to help with job preparation yet what does that really mean?Does this “job preparation” help lift the family out of poverty?According to research by Robert Moffit and Katie Winder of Johns Hopkins University the average monetary gain by employment when leaving the TANF program is “modest” and “the losses of benefits attendant upon leaving largely cancel out the earnings gained.” (Moffit, R & Winder, K 2003) This simply put is that it is more financially responsible to stay on the welfare system than and work no more than required than to leave and rely on just the income from employment.Perhaps this why there is a 5 year limit of time a family can receive assistance from TANF.

To understand this, the type of employment and rates of pay for people leaving the TANF program must be understood.For a person with a high school diploma or GED the average income in 2009 was only $25,000 as opposed to those with a bachelor’s degree averaging $40,100 annually. (NCES 2011) Again, on face value in concordance with the Census Bureau’s poverty line of $11,344 annually for a single person with no children $25,000 per year seems livable Including rent, food, electricity, phone, internet, gas, and car insurance I average around $1200 per month in non-negotiable expenses equaling $14,400 annually. Granted I also have children which in my situation would raise the poverty threshold yet I would have these basic expenses regardless of added members to the family, the only variant of significance would be food consumption.Collecting data from my area the average wage paid to workers without specialized education such as food service workers, cashiers and general laborers is around $8.00 per hour.This works out to around $16,640 annually.For a single person with no children this is livable although doesn’t leave much room for investment and leisure activities.However adding children to the equation raises expenses substantially.

If the average income of a person leaving the TANF program is only $25,000 and they have one or more children that income is not enough to support the family without further assistance.Therefore it is reasonable to state that the TANF program does not take into account the level of income needed to successfully leave the program and have the family able to self-sustain themselves.Why would a policy be created that only serves to keep people in the program or shuffle them to another form of assistance? Perhaps a look at the underlying values and perspectives in our society will help present a better understanding of this.

From the establishment of our country we as a people have held the view of independence and the freedom over government to rule ourselves.Therefore our view of financial income and therefore our social status stems from our ability to self-sustain ourselves.This perspective has created a stigmatic view of the poor as though they are responsible for their financial state regardless of social and economic factors.Granted there are people suffering from poverty as the result of negatively effective choices they have made such as drug use and crime, yet there are many who simply collapsed under the current economic system of debt creation.Why is it then that the welfare system seems designed to keep people dependent on it?A simple answer is this.Any entity that requires the acquisition of funds from its beneficiaries is a business.We pay taxes of varying forms to support the various government programs both official and social.The taxes we pay are not itemized for individuals to see what percent of their taxes paid goes to what program.Therefore it stands to reason that if the amount of assistance needed increases there is precedence to raise taxes.The raise in taxes does not mean that all of the tax revenue from the increase will go to social service programs. We do not only support the administrational costs of our government but we also support the life styles and public imaging of the administrators.How is it that the people that are supposed to be protecting their citizen body and promoting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness see fit to live lavish and luxurious life styles while ignoring their contribution to poverty by way of taxation?As stated earlier it is accepted because our underlying values in America are geared toward self-sustainment rather than communal-sustainment.

The TANF program is designed to help people in need and the results do show a reduction in program cases and fiscal year payments from 1992 through 2002. (McMahon, C, 2002) As the program targets low income and/or no income families it has been effective in reducing the unemployment rate and poverty level of most American’s suffering in poverty.Yet as with our past we can see how our early prejudice and bias have played a role and still do today.Minorities make up 75% of all people receiving welfare benefits in the United States, just as they made up a majority of people experiencing poverty when our country was first founded.(Tavernise, S 2011) Therefore it seems that the real cause of poverty, at least for minorities, is rooted in our historical subjugation and discrimination of minority races.

Looking at the goals of the TANF policy it is clear that the goal is to reduce poverty by way of certain focus areas.The intent of the policy makers is to reduce poverty by providing immediate assistance to families in need and a program that will facilitate their re-entry into the labor force. The idea behind this is simply to provide families with the means to sustain themselves without government or state aid.Granted research shows that the program has been effective in returning recipients to work yet it is unclear as to whether the program is effective in helping families become self-sufficient. According to the Division of Social Services (DSS) of Delaware most people continue to receive benefits even after re-entering the work force.(DSS, 2012) This clearly is not indicative of being self-sufficient.The intended effect may have been to promote self-sustenance yet the result has only been a reduction in the amount paid, the difference being replaced by employment.

In the short term this policy can help immediate needs and marginally stimulate economic growth yet it seems short sighted as it only promotes low wage employment that requires no specialized training or skills. This in the long run can only serve to slow the problem or at best redistribute the level of poverty more evenly across the country.The long term effect of this will be history repeating itself.As the system stands right now it only perpetuates itself by making minimal investment thus garnering minimal return.If people in our country are unable to pursue self-actualization by means of financial security and be able to live a good quality of life the chances of depression, illness and drug or alcohol addiction increase. (

Recently the TANF emergency Fund was instituted by way of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.The purpose was to re-allocate a total of $5 billion to cover up to 80% of increased spending in the areas of basic assistance, subsidized employment and short-term benefits. (DHHS, 2012)This seems a lot like a policy created to alleviate the inefficiency of the prior policy.If there is an increase in spending that requires more government funding then the current system is not working efficiently to lower the rate of welfare participation.Originally the TANF program was instituted to remove entitlement to government benefits and grant each state a block sum to use for these programs, leaving the individual states to manage the funds and determine priorities.As it stands with the states requiring “bail” out money there is obviously cause to not only re-evaluate the program but its administration as well.

In conclusion It is apparent that further healthcare reform is necessary yet perhaps amendments and additions to current policies is not the answer.Perhaps a more invested and grand involvement is necessary.As the root of poverty is seeded in economic stability it would make more sense to raise the level of mandatory education to that of a bachelor’s degree.Rather than waste funds to place people in the secondary labor market that is often only temporary those funds would be better served employing teachers to create a better educated populous.If the average median income of someone holding a bachelor’s degree is around $40,000 annually it would all but abolish lower level incomes.It would also provide opportunities for individuals to choose if both parents work, thus allowing for a more healthy and consistent parental involvement with children.This could eventually reduce crime rates, dropout rates and destructive behaviors associated from parental absence. Granted this would not alleviate the short term problem of poverty but it could set our society on a path towards that reality.



Background Information about the TANF Emergency Fund , Office of Family Assistance, Administration for Children and Families, U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 2012. Retrieved on Apr.26th 2012 from


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Division of Social Services, Delaware Health and Social Services, 2012. Retrieved on Apr. 25th 2012 from


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Overview, Programs, Recovery, Department of Health and Human Services,, 2012. Retrieved on Apr. 24th 2012 from


Major Goals, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Overview, Programs, Recovery, Department of Health and Human Services,, 2012. Retrieved on Apr. 24th 2012 from

McMahon, C,

Temporary Assistance for Needy Fam8ilies, Table 1, 2012. Publisher Unknown Retrieved on Apr. 25th 2012 from

Moffit, R & Winder, K

The Correlates and Consequences of Welfare Exit and Entry: Evidence from the Three-City Study, Johns Hopkins University, 2003. Retrieved on Apr. 25th 2012 from

References Continued


Income of young adults, Fast Facts, National Institute of Education Statistics, National Institute of Education Science, 2012. Retrieved on Apr. 25th 2012 from

Tavernise, S

Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’, U.S, New York Times, 2011. Retrieved on Apr. 25th 2012 from

The Role of Stress in Disease, The Mind/Body Connection, Chapter 4, Stress Effects,, no Author or Date available. Retrieved on Apr. 24th 2012 from


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