HARRISBURG, August 20, 2021 – On the 25th anniversary of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) and state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks) announced that they are seeking to introduce companion legislation that aims to modernize the TANF program by increasing the monthly benefit amount to bring families up to 50% of the federal poverty level and out of deep poverty.
By requiring that the benefits undergo an annual cost of living increase to keep pace with inflation, the two bills would ensure benefits continue to be effective at providing financial stability to the roughly 68,500 Pennsylvania families and children receiving cash assistance—a serious life-improving measure for families and their children’s futures.
“Eradicating poverty is the moral and economic issue of our generation. No one, especially Pennsylvania’s children, should live in deep poverty, which has long-term effects on their health and well-being for their entire lives,” Kenyatta said. “TANF has served as a lifeline for same many families and children in need for a quarter of a century. As cost-of-living increases, the monthly payments from TANF are ineffective at fulfilling the needs of Pennsylvanians relying on it to survive. I urge my colleagues in joining me in ensuring this lifeline meets the moment”
Rep. Kenyatta pointed to a report released this week from The Meet Need Campaign that found that in 1990, Pennsylvania’s benefit of $403 covered 43% of the federal poverty level, but in 2020 the same benefit covered a mere 22%. Furthermore, when accounting for inflation in this period, the TANF benefit has decreased in spending power by more than 50%.
“The cost of living in Pennsylvania continues to go up, our child poverty rate is alarmingly high and families across the state are struggling – yet it has been over 30 years since we have raised TANF cash grants,” Muth added. “Without raising the amount of cash assistance available to these families, we are ensuring that they will never be able to break out of poverty.”
Sen. Muth cited a 2020 study by Drexel University that indicated 51.9% of the state’s TANF recipients identified as Black, significantly higher than the 28.9% national average. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania spends less of their block grant on basic assistance compared to other states with fewer Black recipients.
Rep. Kenyatta and Sen. Muth plan to introduce the companion bills in the House and Senate and hope to gain bipartisan support in the Capitol.