SNAP, TANF and a Better Path
“The nation’s core economic security programs are highly effective: they cut poverty almost in half, improve nutrition and health care for millions of people, and promote work.”
This is how Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), began her testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee during its hearing on poverty on Tuesday (you can watch a recording of the committee hearing here and read Olivia’s full written testimony here).
She highlighted programs that we know lift millions of people out of poverty or make them less poor – programs like SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and others. She gave examples of how these programs improve both the lives of millions of low-income families and the long-term prospects of millions of children, and she cited evidence showing that economic security programs support work.
She also showed how a lack of support for safety net programs harms children and families. For example, Olivia noted that the TANF block grant, which has received no increase in funding sinceenactment in 1996 except for a temporary boost during the Great Recession, has lost one third of its value. Combined with bad state choices, this has resulted in just 17 percent of poor children nationwide (and fewer than 10 percent in 17 states) receiving cash assistance. Unfortunately, some GOP members of the committee ignored the proven effectiveness of SNAP and other programs and instead painted anti-poverty programs as ineffective and a poverty trap.
SNAP and TANF were also topics of conversation at an event I attended held by the Hamilton Project this past Monday. Titled “Strengthening the Safety Net to Mitigate the Effect of Future Recessions,” the half-day event featured a host of thought-provoking speakers, including White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, Harvard University Professor Lawrence Summers, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein, and White House Domestic Policy Council Chair Cecelia Muñoz. These and other presenters discussed how economic policies helped or hurt our recovery following the Great Recession and how programs like SNAP and TANF performed (you can watch segments of the event here).
The consensus? Although SNAP is extremely effective and prevents millions of families from becoming food insecure or falling deeper into poverty, SNAP benefits are too low and out of date. And TANF – the central cash welfare program for families with children in the United States – did not respond effectively to the downturn. Even in normal economic times, the panelists agreed, the program fails to reach many needy families. Papers were presented specifically on proposals to modernize SNAP benefits and strengthen TANF.
Protecting and strengthening anti-poverty programs is of utmost importance. Millions of American children and adults rely on them in times of need. That’s why CHN will be hosting a live-streamed event on June 16, 1-3pm ET, highlighting the good these programs do, how certain proposals would lessen their effectiveness and ways they can be improved upon.
The event will follow the soon-to-be-released report from a House GOP task force on poverty. As we previously noted, human needs advocates fear the task force’s recommendations, if implemented, would actually exacerbate poverty in our country. We’ll show that there is a better path.
Stay tuned for more information and registration details for our June 16th event.