Child Poverty

Pandemic TANF Assistance Is an Important Step Forward to Help Low-Income Children and Families

May 13, 2020 | National

Last week, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden introduced the Pandemic Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Act to provide emergency financial assistance to low-income children and families adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Children’s Defense Fund is proud to support this important legislation, which would create a new $10 billion Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grant Program to help get families critical financial assistance to cover their rent, groceries, utility bills, and other basic needs.  

Too many families, especially families of color, were already struggling to make ends meet even before this crisis. The pandemic has magnified both their challenges and our nation’s utter failure to address systemic economic, social, and racial inequities. People of color are more likely to have lost jobs due to COVID, are dying at rapid rates compared to their white counterparts, and are more likely to live in poverty. As new research shows that this pandemic could cause child poverty rates to rise by 53 percent, especially for children of color, this bill is more important than ever. Families should not have to worry where their next meal will come from or face harsh requirements that were impossible to meet even before this pandemic. The Pandemic TANF Assistance Act would provide vital assistance to families who need it most–an essential step toward comprehensive action to help children and families confronting severe economic hardship and poverty. 

This legislation would: 

Suspend burdensome requirements. The bill waives work requirements, time limits on assistance, and other harsh requirements that impede TANF recipients from receiving vital assistance. It also prohibits states from sanctioning any individual who has not met these requirements or who is adversely affected by COVID-19. 

Create and fund a new emergency grant program. The bill establishes and appropriates $10 billion for Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grants. Additionally, families and individuals with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty line are eligible for assistance. States, tribes, and territories could apply for grant funding quarterly by submitting a letter of intent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Provide flexibility for states and protections for people. States can use funds to provide eligible families with short-term cash, non-cash and in-kind assistance to meet their basic needs. States can also use funds for subsidized employment, but with important guardrails. During a federal or state public health declaration, states can only use the funds for essential or remote work, respecting clear social distancing guidelines and providing proper protective gear. Only after a federal or state public health declaration ends can states ramp up subsidized jobs, taking into account worker safety and spread of the coronavirus. Additionally, states must report how they use the funds to HHS, who must then report to Congress. This helps provide transparency to the public and prevent states from spending the funds on other purposes, as was the case during the Great Recession. 

Emergency cash assistance and in-kind support is an important way to help children and families get by during this pandemic. House Democrats recently released H.R. 6800, The Heroes Act, which would provide emergency flexibility for states to suspend work requirements and time limits on assistance through January 31, 2021 and create penalties for states who fail to comply or sanction families for failure to engage in “work participation” activities. However, more is needed to ensure that children and families in poverty can survive this pandemic. That is why we believe  the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act must be included in the next COVID relief package. 

Our country needs a robust, coordinated federal and state response to meet our shameful and growing child poverty crisis. You can read more about our efforts to fight child poverty during and beyond this pandemic here

More information about the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act is available here.