Myths about TANF

This is an old post in the drafts from 2011.

Entitlement:  Not really sure what I meant by this one.

Cadillac mama:  The idea of the Welfare Queen was thought up and popularized by one of Ronald Reagan’s speech writers.  There’s little to no basis in reality, though some point to one woman who was perpetuating actual fraud (and was caught and went to jail for it).  There were no single mothers living large on Welfare back during Reagan’s time and TANF is even less generous, so that’s even less of a thing.

Encourages more babies:  TANF does not pay enough for an extra child to make it worthwhile to have an extra child.  The extra child will cost more than the additional benefit of TANF.  Anybody saying they want babies to get on welfare is delusional.

Encourages divorce/not getting married:  maybe.  Welfare (pre-TANF), potentially even more so, because it was targeted at single moms and even more difficult to get if married.  But even if TANF does encourage divorce/not getting married, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it helps women not be trapped in dangerous marriages.

Discourages work:  yes and no.  Welfare pre-TANF did discourage work.  TANF is an improvement over that.  TANF is designed to try to keep it from discouraging work as much, though theoretically it still could.  Empirically it seems to not discourage work much.  One of the terrible things is that work doesn’t really provide a living wage for a lot of people on the margins of TANF.

People move to states with more generous benefits in order to receive benefits:  This just does not happen.  First:  People do not leave their families and support networks to chase benefits.  Second: even if they did, states have waiting periods where you have to live in said states for more time than most poor people can handle before benefits start up.

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3 Responses to “Myths about TANF”

  1. delagar Says:

    Every semester I chose a topic for my Comp class to research and write their papers over — like, last semester we did invasive species. Well, one semester we did poverty and you WOULD NOT BELIEVE (okay, you would) the number of students who insisted to me they knew so many women who had babies just so they could collect benefits instead of working for a living.

    They didn’t care what the research showed. They *knew* it was true.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Anybody who actually has babies for that reason is sadly misinformed! (Which my students figure out after we learn about all the TANF rules.) I don’t deny to them that people they know say that, but I make sure they know their friends (who I suspect are actually “friend of a friend”s in the urban legend sense) are making decisions based on faulty information if that think that having a baby means the government gives you money to not work in the US.

      That hasn’t been even remotely possible since the mid-90s TANF reform (and wasn’t *really* possible before then since benefits weren’t enough to pay for an additional child, but now it’s literally not possible).

  2. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I cannot EVEN with people who believe that other people actually have babies for benefits. What benefits? On a personal note, there would have to be a huge list of benefits including paid personnel to help to even remotely make that worth considering. And yet. Delagar’s students. Sheesh. I feel like these people are so well insulated from reality, it’s rather frightening.


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