Asset Building News Week - August 26, 2016

Highlights from this week's news stories

Featured Story: Welfare Reform is 20!

Earlier this week, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the law that created the Temporary Aid to Needy Families or TANF program (affectionately known as welfare reform) turned 20. Given the large volume of #TANFat20 related news over the past few days, this edition of the Asset Building News Week has been organized a bit differently. Rather than a lengthy feature, all of the feature pieces have been organized into quick hits.

  • In an op-ed for the Hill, Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas discuss the work that still needs to be done in repairing the social safety net and the dangers in modeling other programs after TANF.
  • As a result of welfare reform, the amount of money states spend on cash assistance levels varies. NPR's Pam Fessler and Chris Lehman examine the difference between two states in particular (Louisiana and Oregon) to see how TANF recipients make ends meet.
  • The Intercept’s Zaid Jilani reflects on an event held on Capitol HIll by the American Enterprise Institute and the Progressive Policy Institute. Despite the rise in extreme poverty documented by researchers like Kathryn Edin, throughout the event, “[welfare reform’s] architects said they had no regrets about its passage,” writes Jilani.
  • Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35) voted for welfare reform twenty years ago. “Unfortunately, the program has failed to deliver on its promise, and it has left some families in even worse condition,” he writes in Talk Poverty. In order to fix TANF, Rep. Doggett outlines three broad steps Congress should take.
  • Echoing the sentiments of Rep. Doggett, Ohio governor John Kasich pens an op-ed for the New York Times on what needs to be done in order to fix the holes in TANF’s programming. Though, unlike Rep. Doggett, Kasich calls for increased state level autonomy.
  • The welfare program hasn’t been updated since it was first passed 20 years ago—that needs to change according to the Washington Post Editorial Board. “A welfare reform update would keep its core principle — benefits conditioned on work effort — while requiring states to spend more of their funds on achieving the work goals. Congress should permit more flexibility in how individuals may meet work requirements to reflect needs for education, vocational training, addiction treatment and other long-term services. It should also increase support for child care, to help parents who take low-wage jobs with unpredictable schedules to meet the work requirement. There should also be a mechanism for increased funding during recessions.”
  • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Ife Floyd documents the decline in cash assistance across the 50 states. TANF needs to be reformed to get the program more in line with its states goals. “Policymakers should focus on...making it a more effective work program, and ensuring that states direct the money to TANF’s core activities — work, work supports, and basic cash assistance.”
  • “[W]e sacrificed the opportunity to define our agenda—one based on the ideals of personal autonomy and equality under the law, and that stands up for communities marginalized by discriminatory laws and institutions,” writes Samuel Hammond in a piece for Talk Poverty that calls for Libertarians to rethink their approach to poverty.
  • Writing for the Atlantic, Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer call welfare “a shadow of its former self.” The pair document the rise in extreme poverty and the lengths to which parents have to go in order to provide for their families. What is the cause of TANF’s downfall? Too much state flexibility.
  • Writing for the New York Daily News, Scott Winship explains that “child poverty today is at an all-time low, and practically no households in the United States are managing on $2 a day per person.”
  • In a series of nine charts, the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund details how welfare reform has impacted the lives of those in poverty.
  • One of the ways states can choose to spend TANF dollars is to fund relationship education programs. “These federally funded programs focus on teaching couples new skills to improve their relationships, targeting areas like healthy communication, showing affection and conflict management.” The problem, writes Justin Lavner, Benjamin Karney, and Thomas Bradbury in a piece for Slate, is that they don’t really work.  
  • Ensuring access to economic opportunity requires more than innovative policy, it also requires addressing the racial inequality that still exists says Vishnu Sridharan for Truthout.
  • Rebecca Vallas and Jeremy Slevin put together a short primer on welfare reform for Talk Poverty. The two provide short answers to six questions (1) What is TANF, (2) What are block grants, (3) Why is state control not an effective means of managing TANF, (4) Is TANF helping people find work, (5) Why is all of this important, and (6) What are next steps?
  • FiveThirtyEight’s Andrew Flowers takes a look at how welfare reform changed how states spend their TANF grants—specifically what percentage of the money actually goes to cash assistance. (Spoiler alert: It’s not much.)

News in Brief: Secure Choice, Medicaid Expansion, Retirement Security, and More

  • As the U.S. Department of Labor issued its final rule on state payroll deduction IRA accounts, the California Assembly passed its Secure Choice legislation reports the Washington Post.
  • Writing for the New York Times, Mary Williams Walsh provides an overview of how California’s Secure Choice program would work.
  • The Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative at the Aspen Institute released its findings from a survey “aimed at understanding more about the views stakeholders have on income volatility and its impact on the financial lives of affected Americans.”
  • PBS News Hour’s Making Sen$e Editor covers how Medicaid expansion has improved the financial health of low-income Americans.
  • “Democrats who have started a discussion about improving retirement security in the U.S. would do well to take a page out of Canada’s book,” writes the American Prospect’s Daniel Block.
  • Nick Bunker from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth writes "On Retiring in the United States Amid Low Interest Rates."

Events:

Reducing Poverty and Increasing Opportunity: Envisioning the Next 20 Years | Urban Institute | September 13, 2016

Assets Learning Conference | CFED | September 28-30, 2016

Author:

Sade Bruce is a program associate in the Family-Centered Social Policy program at New America. She provides research and analysis on policies that impact access to economic resources and asset ownership.