Policy & Practice | Spring 2023

research corner

By Laura Haffield

Call to Action: Connecting TANF and SNAP Spending with Child Welfare Outcomes

C onsidering how much the price of everything—from milk to plane tickets—has changed in the past two years, it’s surprising that the budget allocation for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) hasn’t changed in nearly two decades. Along with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), TANF’s $16.5 billion block grant represents a major vehicle human services agencies have at their disposal for assisting families in times of need. Because of the flexibilities permitted in how states administer the program, it presents a significant research opportunity to shape policy. Evidence is also mounting that these investments have positive ripple effects on programs like child welfare. Dr. Michelle Motoyama-Johnson, pro fessor and associate dean for academic affairs at The Ohio State University College of Social Work, and Dr. Donna Ginther, professor of economics and director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research at the University of Kansas, recently authored two studies 1,2 gaining national attention on this topic. Their research builds on years of evidence 3 showing links between economic resources, child maltreat ment, and child welfare involvement. It examines the relationship between the generosity or restrictiveness of policies in assistance programs like SNAP and TANF, and the downstream impacts on child welfare. Some key findings: n Each TANF policy that restricted access to benefits was associated What Does the ResearchTell Us?

Ginther explained, “I’m an economist. In Kansas, TANF maximum payments per month for a family of three are $429, but average cost of foster care (with average stay of 19 months) is $2,000. It just doesn’t make fiscal sense.” Even more important are the costs in terms of preventing trauma of involving child protective services and family sepa ration. 4 Motoyama-Johnson emphasized, “Prevention is a change in mindset. There is a fiscal side to it, and a human side to it. These are life-long impacts.” Summing up the importance of these findings, Ginther said, “To the extent you can connect families with federal or state resources to support them, you’ll have better outcomes for kids.” What Can We Do Now? n Improve data matching and data sharing among programs. “These systems were not built for research purposes,” said Motoyama-Johnson.

with a 13 percent reduction in TANF caseloads, which then increased child welfare involvement. According to the study, “states that imposed TANF restrictions experienced […] statisti cally significant increases in neglect victims, total foster care placements, and foster care placements for reasons of neglect.” n In reverse, “extrapolating these numbers to the 2015 US child popu lation of 73.7 million would mean easing TANF restrictions may have resulted in 29,112 fewer children entering foster care.” What’s the Cost of Maintaining the Status Quo? Increasing access to benefits might sound pricey but consider the return on investment. TANF and SNAP tend to be less costly programs to administer, both in dollars and workforce resources.

Illustration by Chris Campbell


Policy & Practice Spring 2023

Made with FlippingBook Online newsletter creator