Another viewpoint: Ways and Means OKs state TANF expansion

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette

Indiana’s poorest families could receive more financial assistance from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in a few years.

But first, Senate Bill 265 must win approval from the Indiana House, where previous proposals have died the past four sessions.

The bill, co-authored by Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, is similar to others he has proposed each year since 2019. Twice, one of those bills passed the Senate, but both times, it died in the House Ways and Means Committee.

This session, the committee approved SB 265 on March 30.

“This is really a workforce development program that can help women and families get the skills to improve their income (by providing) things like job training, child care, transportation — all the things that somebody needs to help improve themselves,” Ford told the Senate Committee on Family and Children Services, where SB 265 received unanimous support.

TANF is a federally funded cash assistance welfare program administered by states for families with children. Indiana had the fifth lowest income limit in the country for TANF eligibility in 2020, according to a study by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization.

Ford’s bill would raise the income eligibility limits from what they are currently — about 16% of federal poverty guidelines — to 35% from July 2025 to July 2027 and 50% afterward. Currently, a Hoosier family of four would receive a maximum monthly benefit of $346.

Many receive much less. The average one-parent TANF family in Indiana received $195.59 per month, or $297.69 for a two-parent family, according to the December Monthly Management Report from the Family & Social Services Administration.

Ford says the state’s low eligibility means any family making more than $307 per month would be considered too well-off for TANF assistance. Under his proposal, the cutoff would increase to $950 per month in 2027.

Benefits also would increase for families. Under state statute, maximum payments are fixed at $155 for one child with another $65 for each additional child or $255 for one parent and a child.

Ford’s bill would increase those amounts to $248 for one child with another $104 per each additional child or $409 for one parent and a child.

Compared to the rest of the country, Indiana has one of the nation’s lowest TANF-to-poverty ratios, spending less than 5% on direct assistance, well below the national average of 22.3%, according to a Congressional Research Service report from December.

How much will this cost Hoosiers? Nothing, as the state would use unspent funds to pay for administration costs. According to the Legislative Services Agency, Indiana has $54.4 million in unspent aid.

For the poorest among us, this is a much-needed long-term solution for a program that provides important temporary financial relief.