Arizona native Eduardo Porter, writing in The New York Times about the Legislature’s vote to cut poor families’ access to welfare to a lifetime maximum of 12 months, got right to the bottom line:
“This has nothing to do with the (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program’s objective of helping poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job, still the best antipoverty tool there is,” he wrote. “Arizona simply needed the money for something else.”
Governor Doug Ducey called the cuts necessary to protect taxpayers and K-12 classrooms, but the money that pays for this critically necessary program comes from a federal block grant. How then, do the cuts protect taxpayers and K-12 classrooms, particularly given the $3.5 billion education-funding plan agreed to recently?
The purpose of TANF is to help low-income adults enter the workforce. That’s why former President Bill Clinton signed the block grant law in 1997: to fulfill his promise to “end welfare as we know it.”
TANF requires that states like Arizona, which is the first in the nation to cut back assistance to one year, ensure that individuals receiving the benefit are working, looking for a job or trying to go to school. Just to be eligible to receive TANF, a parent or nonparent head of household (foster parent, grandparent, etc.) can’t have assets of more than $2,000.
Cutting TANF eligibility is projected to save $3 million of the $9.1 billion General Fund. For context, the special election on May 17th for Proposition 123 will cost three times that number.
Forty-five days after that election, roughly 1,600 families — including more than 2,700 children — will be dropped from TANF assistance.
There are no provisions, opportunities or options for helping those transitioning off TANF to find living-wage jobs. Even now, 26 percent of those who are employed across Arizona are in low-wage jobs and can barely make ends meet as it is.
In his New York Times article, Porter wrote that in “2012, one out of five households receiving food stamps reported no other source of income. Millions more scrape by on modest assistance and low-paying jobs.”
So, in a head-scratching effort to save money, the Arizona Legislature has put thousands of children and their parents at even greater risk of ending up homeless which, in turns, puts additional stress on the communities in which they live.
Is there a solution? We believe there is: restore TANF benefits for 24 months and bolster the current jobs program housed at DES to improve, enhance and expand its effectiveness in helping solve the challenges that poverty presents.
Or we can kick the can down the road and enjoy an ever-expanding homeless population.
— This letter is signed by the Basic Needs Coalition, which gives voice to working families pursuing the American Dream. Their members include Arizona Child Care Association, Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, Arizona Community Action Association, Arizona Family Health Partnership, Arizona Housing Alliance, Association of Arizona Food Banks, Children’s Action Alliance, Mental Health America of Arizona and Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition.
Samuel Richard is executive director of the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition.