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#20 States Hoard Federal Assistance Funding Amidst Record Poverty Levels



Despite the national poverty rate making its largest upward jump in recorded history, Hannah Dreyfus reported for ProPublica that states had stockpiled $5.2 billion in undistributed funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). Her report was part of a collection of articles published by ProPublica in 2021 that detailed the regulations allowing widespread denial of assistance and explored their impact on those in need.

Hannah Dreyfus reported in a December 2021 article that the number of approved applications for access to TANF funding has been cut in half since 2010 as guidelines to qualify become increasingly exclusionary, while reserved TANF funds have more than doubled in the same time period.

Dreyfus profiled Bonney Bridgforth, a single mother of four children, who was forced to work at just a dollar above Maine’s minimum wage while pursuing her associate’s degree to meet the “employment” qualification for TANF funding. However, Bridgforth was notified that her family no longer met the “deprivation” standard to receive aid after her estranged husband was released from prison. Dreyfus observed that “the same year Bridgforth was kicked off TANF, Maine was sitting on $111 million in unspent welfare dollars.”

Bridgforth’s story illustrates a larger problem stemming from the fallout of a 1996 welfare reform law passed by the Clinton administration allowing states to withhold assistance. The 1996 law awards states an up-front block grant each year, intending for the money to go toward helping the poor meet their basic needs. However, as Eli Hager explained in a December 2021 ProPublica article, states are allowed to spend this money in any manner they see fit, as long as it meets one of four very broad criteria…



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