PA has one of the worst welfare programs in the country

Just Harvest and our fellow members in the statewide Meet the Need Coalition are excited about a new state legislative effort to modernize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  It would raise benefits levels in Pennsylvania’s only cash assistance program expressly for people in poverty for the first time in 30 years!

This needs to happen if we’re going to get children in PA out of deep poverty.

"Our state government has $7.5 Billion saved, and some of my colleagues are burying their head in the sand when we could be spending this money on programs like TANF to help the people in the Commonwealth who need it most." PA State. Rep. Malcolm KenyattaWhat’s wrong with TANF in PA

In 1996, the Clinton administration, seeking to “end welfare as we know it”, transformed government aid to improverished families from an entitlement program based on income to a block grant based on what states want to spend. Not surprisingly, a majority of PA state legislators and several governors have not wanted to spend much on helping families in poverty since then.

As a result, the grant amount that eligible families receive – fixed at $403 a month for most Pennsylvania families of three – has not increased since 1990. This leaves families who are eligible for the benefit well below the poverty line.

Worse, PA’s TANF rules cap how much a family can have in savings and still qualify for benefits. We are one of only four states to do this.

That means the state refuses to help any family trying to get back on their feet once they have a mere $1,000. How do you escape deep poverty if saving up $1,000 for a car so you can get work, or for medical care, or to secure your housing makes you ineligible for further assistance? It’s a hellish Catch-22 that traps people in misery and dependency.

How we can fix TANF

"To give people the economic opportunity to have an economic safety net would be better than cutting them off... You can't expect people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps if they can't even afford the boots." PA State Sen. Katie Muth A new report we coauthored with Black Women’s Policy AgendaCommunity Legal Services, and Pennsylvania Health Access Network finds Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is crucial for supporting the lowest-income families in Pennsylvania, but it must be improved. The report, featuring the voices of parents receiving cash assistance, recommends a grant increase and other changes to help the program live up to its promise.

In October, Just Harvest and Community Legal Services joined State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and State Sen. Katie Muth in introducing Kenyatta‘s desperately-needed bill to make PA’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program more effective and humane. State Republican leaders’ long refusal to both raise the minimum wage and help impoverished families is, as Muth pointed out, “gross government negligence.”

What women on TANF have to say

Also in Harrisburg speaking in support of the bill were two mothers and former recipients of TANF, who shared their harrowing stories about how the program failed them when they needed it most.

Veronica Taylor spoke about the lifelong impact of childhood poverty, starting with her birthday never being celebrated when she was growing up. She passed along that pain to her own children. “Scarcity keeps people and families on edge and feeling depleted. To always have to worry about where you’ll live and what you’ll eat takes away the ability to dream for tomorrow.”

"More than 70 percent of recipients on TANF are victims of domestic violence. I'm not an anomaly. But I am a voice." -- ClarissaClarissa Bordnet’s trauma came later in life, at the hands of an abusive husband. She was able to escape him, but not brutal poverty. “Starting out on TANF, my rent was $500 a month, and for a family of five, we received $525,” Bordnet said. “That leaves $25 a month for diapers, toiletries, clothes for the children and myself, gas, medical bills.” She asked legislators to support increasing TANF benefits to help the 70% of recipients who are victims of domestic violence, whose numbers have risen even further during the pandemic.

What you can do

Please join us in a full Meet the Need Coalition meeting on Friday, December 17 at 2:00 PM!

The Meet the Need Campaign is a statewide coalition of advocates, community groups and TANF parents led by the Black Women’s Policy Agenda, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Just Harvest, and Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

At the meeting, we will:

  • review the Meet the Need report on TANF’s strengths and weaknesses, based on our survey of TANF recipients,
  • discuss bills to increase the TANF grant that have been introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate,
  • discuss what YOU can do to advocate for the first TANF grant increase in Pennsylvania since 1990. Below is the letter that over 80 organizations have sent to Governor Wolf, asking for him to put a TANF grant increase into his state budget for 2022-23.

orange arrowRegister here to join the Zoom meeting.

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