Cash assistance benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2012 and are now at least 20% below their 1996 levels in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation. No states cut benefit levels in 2012.
A few states increased their family grants, but most states kept them unchanged, allowing the benefits to continue to be eroded by inflation. With the country’s economic outlook looking somewhat more favorable in the coming year, it is time for states to halt the erosion of TANF benefits and slowly regain some of the purchasing power lost over the past 16 years.
TANF provides a safety net to relatively few poor families: in 2011, just 27 families received TANF benefits for every 100 poor families, down from 68 families receiving TANF for every 100 in poverty in 1996. But for the families that participate in the program, it often is their only source of support and without it, they would have no cash income to meet their basic needs.
In 2012 in New Jersey, the TANF benefit level for a family of 3 was:
$424 a month;
27% of the federal poverty level;
75% of the Fair Market Rent (FMR); and its
Purchasing power has decreased by 31% from 1996 to 2012.