State-level TANF Policies and Practice May Shape Access and Utilization among Hispanic Families

Research BriefHispanic Children & FamiliesOct 15 2020

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is a federally funded program with powerful potential to support families’ economic needs by providing cash assistance or other services that satisfy one of its four purposes (see text box). Under TANF, the federal government provides states with block grants that give them authority to allocate funds as long as federal purposes are met. States have the flexibility to develop their own policies and practices that can affect program eligibility and individual’s experiences with accessing and maintaining support from TANF cash assistance. Additionally, states have discretion in the extent to which counties—and, in some cases, cities—have decision-making authority over how TANF funds are administered.

TANF cash assistance supports a small portion of potentially eligible families; in 2018, less than one quarter of families living in poverty received TANF cash assistance.1 Even though receipt is higher among eligible children (as child-only cases), 35 percent of children in poverty—including 45 percent of children in deep poverty—who were eligible for TANF cash assistance did not receive it.2 Notably, although important for families, TANF cash benefits typically are not enough to move families above the poverty line. In 2018, the national average monthly cash benefit received by families was $423;3 however, the national average monthly income threshold for the federal poverty level (FPL) was $1,011 for one person and $1,732 for a family of three.4

Hispanics comprise 18 percent of the national population,5 but represent a disproportionate share of individuals in poverty (26%).6 According to estimates from the 2018 American Community Survey, 5.8 percent of foreign-born and 7.2 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic child households reside in deep poverty (<50% of FPL); 14.3 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively, reside in medium poverty (50-99% of FPL); and 34.0 and 23.0 percent, respectively, reside in near poverty (100-199% of FPL).7 The extent to which states provide cash benefits to children in poverty varies substantially. In 2014, TANF cash assistance, on average, was provided to fewer than 8 families for every 100 with children in poverty in Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas, and for at least 40 families for every 100 with children in poverty in California and New York.8

A variety of demographic characteristics related to the citizenship status of Hispanic family and household members, family and household composition, and language fluency may affect program eligibility, access, and utilization. For example, Hispanic families are more likely than non-Hispanic families to be residing with at least one non-U.S.-born parent (50%),9 an unrelated adult (27%),10 and an adult who is not verbally proficient in English (37%).11

This brief describes state-level policies and administrative practices for TANF that may influence income eligible Hispanic families’ use or non-use of the cash assistance component of the TANF program.a Our analysis focuses on the 13 states that are home to over 80 percent of all Hispanic children living in low income (<200% FPL) households in the United States, as of 2016.12 We first provide some detail on the demographic characteristics of the 3 states studied and describe how each state allocated TANF funds. We then describe four provisions of TANF cash assistance policies that determine 1) the eligibility of individuals who are authorized non-citizens; 2) eligibility based on family structure; 3) eligibility of household members who are not part of the immediate family; and 4) whether health status screening is required to maintain eligibility (e.g., immunizations). We also describe administrative practices related to 1) the information requirements in the application form; and 2) the linguistic accessibility of program information and whether an application is available online. Data were collected using publicly available data sources capturing TANF policies and practices prior to March 2020.

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