Texas spent about $862 million in federal and state funds from a program for families in need, according to a new report. But only 6% of those funds were spent on basic assistance, which is the whole point of the program.
Liz Schott, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which authored the report, said the program was created to help people support their families when they are out of work and looking for another job by giving them cash for a short amount of time.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – or TANF – program is paid out to states in a block grant, which means states can decide how to spend those federal funds.
Schott found that Texas has decided to spend a significant part of that funding on “other state spending.”
As a result, she said, Texas has one of the worst records on how much of that money actually goes to basic assistance for families.
“I would put Texas at the forefront of the bad actors,” Schott said.
The national average of the percentage of TANF funds states actually spend on cash assistance is also very low — around 20%. But Schott said Texas’ spending is far below that average. In 2018, Texas ranked 46th in the country for the percent of funds actually spent on basic assistance.
“[Texas] is spending almost all of the money on prekindergarten and child welfare – good things for states to support – but that’s not what the TANF money was supposed to be for,” Schott said. “It was supposed to get the very poorest families — help them meet their basic needs and get connected to work.”
Schott said this has long term implications, too. Research shows that funding cash assistance improves academic, economic and health outcomes for children in poverty.
“What we are really doing is not only increasing the material hardship that kids are experiencing right now,” Schott said, “but we are also really handicapping them for their future.”