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The vast majority of households receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are headed by single mothers. These benefits are inadequate, usually lower than $8.00 daily for a family of three. Congress must reauthorize TANF by the end of September. Legal Momentum has recommendations for improving TANF to meet the needs of poor women.
Family public assistance, commonly referred to as “welfare,” is one of the critical components of a strong, functioning Social Safety Net. Because the number of single mothers vastly outnumbers that of single fathers, the program is especially important to poor women and their families. In fact, over 90 percent of parents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the current national assistance program for families with children, are single mothers.
In 1996 the federal government enacted sweeping welfare reform legislation eliminating "welfare as we know it" by replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (or "AFDC)" with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or "TANF"(TANF) as the national family public assistance program.
Since that change, the percentage of eligible poor families receiving the benefit has plummeted: today, only 40 percent of poor families receive assistance, down from 84 percent in AFDC’s last full year. Likewise, only 22 percent of poor children now receive assistance, down from 62 percent.
Even for those families that do receive assistance, benefits often fail to cover the most basic needs. In July 2008 for a family of three, the daily benefit per person was less than $8.00 in all but one state, less than $5.00 in thirty states, and as low as $1.86 in one state (Mississippi). Benefits this scant perpetuate widespread material hardship for the women and children who rely on TANF, now over four million in number.