Later today, the House Committee on Downsizing Government will hear HB 2085, a bill that would prevent households which receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) from withdrawing those benefits in cash. However, cash is a necessary resource, especially for households in poverty. This bill will increase the burdens placed on our neighbors in poverty, harms kids in those families by increasing the stigma they face, and will violate federal law which could end TANF in Missouri.
There are many misconceptions about the TANF program in Missouri. Cash assistance is an evidence-based safety net program designed to help fill in the gap for the poorest households in the state. This assistance is designed to help households provide their basic needs that are not covered by other types of assistance- because families know best what gaps they need filled. Households can use TANF for all sorts of essentials like diapers, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, clothing and shoes, transportation, and more.
TANF in Missouri is only available to very low income households with children. 90% of those households are led by single moms, and 75% of the recipients are children (which shows that most TANF households are single moms with multiple children). These households must work full-time if their child is over the age of six or 20 hours per week if the household has children under six. They can’t have assets more than $1,000 and only receive this funding for 45 months total in their lifetime. This helps to paint a picture of the average TANF family: single, working moms unable to provide for their basic needs.
Proponents for this change to limit cash access say it is because some households use that money for drugs, porn, alcohol, or other ‘undesirable’ uses. EBT cards are already not accepted at locations providing these goods / services. Further, we’d counter that the evidence supporting that accusation is very thin. However, we know what households do use cash assistance for:
- Garage sales are some of the cheapest places to buy used clothing and shoes; I never see an EBT machine at local garage sales.
- Informal community supports, like a neighbor offering to drive someone to an appointment for $5 in gas money.
- As a single mom, childcare is a huge burden, especially for last minute or care at odd hours. Cash may be needed to pay a friend to watch your child before or after school or daycare.
- Participating in school fundraisers and field trips reduce stigma for kids in poverty. Bringing a dollar to school to buy a glow bracelet can feel really significant to these kids.
Finally it is important to recognize that the average TANF allocation in Missouri is just $223 a month. For working parents with few resources, that $200 a month can be life saving. TANF has been under attack at the federal and state level since its formation, and in Missouri we have limited both its utilization and accessibility significantly. Federal law requires the access of cash for households receiving TANF, so if Missouri passes this bill we could lose those benefits entirely. This isn’t a good way to move households in Missouri out of poverty.