Where Nevada TANF spending hits – and misses – the mark

Block grants

Block grantsOf the $102 million in combined state and federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in Nevada in 2017, the state spent 38 percent of the money — $39 million — on basic cash assistance to help poor families with children meet basic needs like food and shelter.

And most states spend even a smaller percentage of TANF money on basic assistance, according to report released Tuesday by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). On average, only 23 percent of TANF money in the U.S. is spent on basic assistance.

Those spending levels “point to fundamental flaws with the TANF block grant program” which grants states flexibility in how they spend TANF funds, CBPP reported.

While Nevada’s rate of spending on cash assistance was better than all but 6 states, Nevada’s spending in other “core areas” of the TANF program did not fare as favorably.

Nevada spending on child care was slightly above the national average.

And the 1.3 percent of TANF funding Nevada spent helping low income families find work was one of the lowest percentages in the nation — only five states ranked lower.

Nevada spending on TANF administration and systems was $21.8 million — 21.3 percent of the total funding, nearly double the national average.

The TANF block grant program was created as part of the welfare reform legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which replaced the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, which was a matching program that provided states far less flexibility.

From the CBPP report:

In TANF’s early years, when the economy was strong and cash assistance caseloads were shrinking, states did use their flexibility to take some of the funds that had gone for benefits to families and redirect then to child care and work-related programs or supports. But over time, states redirected a substantial portion of their state and federal TANF funds to other purposes, to fill state budget holes, and in some cases to substitute for existing state spending. Even when need rose during the Great Recession, states often didn’t bring the funds back to the three core areas of basic assistance, child care, and work programs, and instead cut them.

Nevada spending on core areas was 59 percent of overall TANF funding in 2017, up from 57 percent in 2016 and 54 percent in 2015.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

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