This post was written by Cara Baldari, a Senior Policy Director for Family Economics and Legal Counsel at First Focus. Click here to read the original post on First Focus’ blog, Voices for Kids. First Focus is a national, nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.
Due to the in-depth reporting by the Bangor Daily News and the tireless work of child advocates in Maine, we know that over the past five years Maine has withheld and misspent millions in TANF funds rather than appropriately directing this money to support low-income families.
In 2011, TANF served nearly 24,000 Maine children but by 2016, the program served fewer than 8,000 children.[i] These cuts are not due to a decline in need – in 2015, 19,000 children in Maine lived in extreme poverty and this number has increased at a rapid rate since 2011.
Money matters for children’s development and academic achievement. Additional income can raise a child’s test scores and improve educational and mental health outcomes. Cash assistance is critical in helping parents provide the resources needed for economic mobility – such as transportation to work, child care and educational materials for their children.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is the only federal program that provides cash assistance to low-income families. Yet most TANF funds no longer actually go towards cash assistance and in fact states such as Maine overwhelmingly use TANF funds for everything except its original intent: reducing child poverty and getting families back to work. In Maine, over $13 million was redirected unlawfully towards services for the elderly such as in-home care despite the fact there are other funding streams that provide these services.
In response, Maine Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon introduced legislation that would require that over $150 million in withheld TANF funds be spent towards their original intent – reducing child poverty.
LD 1475, An Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families Today (LIFT), would require the $150 million in withheld funds be put towards increasing cash income for families and supporting their economic mobility through:
- Increasing the monthly TANF benefit for families to match the average payments provided in other New England states;
- Expanding the Parents as Scholars program, which allows parents to receive assistance while they pursue higher education. Research shows that parents who participated in this program were more likely to find jobs that allowed them to sufficiently provide for their families, therefore boosting economic mobility;
- Strengthening access to child care for low-income families by raising the rate of TANF reimbursement for child care providers. This will encourage more providers to accept child care vouchers, thereby supporting parents’ ability to obtain stable employment and providing economic benefits for our society.
First Focus Campaign for Children and our partners at Maine Children’s Alliance urge the Maine State Legislature to do right by Maine’s children and pass LD 1475.
[i] Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Independence.