Eeach month Myra Del Toro counts every penny of the $ 403 she receives from Pennsylvania. That’s a big part of her income – but, with inflation the highest level since 1981harder to stretch than ever before.

“Only me [what is] children need it, ”said the 38-year-old mother of five. “Every penny I take, I just keep in my pocket just to get what I need – bills, gas and things my kids need.”

Even for a hard-working woman like Del Toro, who worked 12 hours a day and six days a week in a furniture factory and was nicknamed the “monster” for her work ethic, making ends meet was no easy task. When the pandemic started, she was driving to DoorDash feeding a newborn, but the work was booming and crashing and she had to rely on her children to help with childbirth.

Thus, Del Toro joined the dwindling number of Americans who depended on the only national cash assistance program left in the U.S., the Tanf, in common parlance known as welfare. But even before inflation reached an astronomical 8.5% in February 2022, decades of moderate price growth blurred what could be bought for Tanf payments.

Pennsylvania has not increased monthly Tanf payments to families since 1990.

Pennsylvania is a particularly good example of how lawmakers have allowed the program to fade. The maximum aid of $ 403 – the amount received by Del Toro – has not increased since 1990.

During this time, it has lost more than half of its purchasing power due to inflation, reports Coalition for the Poor in Pennsylvania.

Families living in deep poverty are now facing the fastest rise in prices in recent generations, with little or no support. Child tax credit, part of measures to combat the pandemic, hourly halved child poverty in the United States distributing tax credits of $ 3,600 in monthly payments, including to very low-income families, but Democrats were unable to agree on terms for its extension, and the program ended in early 2022.

“Tanf grants in most states are not adequate for people to meet their basic needs – [and] were inadequate before inflation became as serious a problem as it is now, ”said Don Paveti of the Center for Budgetary and Political Priorities. Recipients, she said, “are asked to stretch dollars that have already been stretched – and you can only stretch things so far.”

Prices for rent, gas and food are particularly volatile, but, according to a 2014 report, “basic necessities,” such as clothing, housing, energy, and health care, have already grown faster than inflation. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We see that our families can’t do without that amount of money, and it’s getting worse and worse and worse,” said Louise Hayes, a Philadelphia Community Legal Services (CLS) attorney.

“In the rental assistance programs in Philly ran out of money. No programs for diapers and sanitary ware, [food stamps are] insufficient to pay for food ”. The pandemic of unemployment benefits, which gave an extra few hundred dollars a week, ended last September.

“Without this income, families may be forced to stay with tough men,” Hayes said, noting that Tanf recipients are likely to be single-headed families, many of whom have experienced domestic violence. .

CLS wants to increase welfare payments in Pennsylvania for the first time in 33 years. They have been fighting for decades, Hayes said, and have recently joined a diverse group of direct aid organizations to push lawmakers. “It’s a rock we’ve been pushing uphill for a very long time.”

Most U.S. states pay less than $ 600 a month per family.

Efforts date back almost to 1996, when President Bill Clinton created the Tanf program by completely restructuring Social Security. States have gained control of most aspects of cash assistance programs, and as a compromise federal funds have been replaced from perpetual aid programs to fixed annual amounts called block grants.

Federal aid has not changed since 1996, in part because the program has never been tied to inflation. And state control meant that the programs were vulnerable to the local political climate. This is evident in the conservative south, where the most punitive and low-paid programs are in the country. In Arkansas, for example, a family of three can earn a maximum of just $ 204 a month.

Low pay and invasive eligibility criteria – including drug tests – have driven applicants away for decades. Nationwide, Tanf now covers only 21 families with children for every 100 living in poverty, compared to its previous program, which reached 68 for every 100, according to Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Some states don’t even spend the money they are given. Pennsylvania, for example, has hidden millions of unspent Tanf aid: as of 2020, Pennsylvania had $ 410 million in Tanf’s non-performing reserves, according to Congressional Research Service.

“I have voters who need these benefits, but this program has not been upgraded to really meet the needs of the people we have now,” said Malcolm Kenyatta, a Pennsylvania spokesman for the Democratic Party representing parts of Philadelphia. . “My family was one of the working poor families who would benefit from this program. I know very intimately what will happen if the government does not work – in an intimate way. “

Kenya is sponsoring a bill to increase the maximum size of Tanf grants, pegging them to inflation and releasing unspent dollars to those in need. Meanwhile, cash aid has again been attacked by conservatives and at least one powerful Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin. Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the Republican Electoral Division in the Senate, criticized government support for incomes and also helped raise taxes for 80% of families earning less than $ 54,000 a year. New York Times reported.

Speaking at a recent Heritage Foundation event, Scott said, “I’m focused on people who can go to work, and decided to participate in a government program and not participate in it,” mistakenly claiming that most state aid recipients don’t work.

Cash assistance programs, in fact, require work for decades. Del Toro is one of the few recipients who has been allowed to attend school for benefits. She is studying for a two-year social work degree at a public college in Reading, Pennsylvania, and expects to graduate next year. Meanwhile, she encourages other people to Tanf.

“Sometimes they just cry and don’t know what they can do,” she said. She tells them, “They can have anything they want. Just wait and believe. Work for it. “

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/apr/16/tanf-welfare-inflation-pennsylvania-us

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