TANF Turns 15

Joe Valentine is the Director of Contra Costa County’s Employment and Human Services Department and is Chair of the First 5 Contra Costa Commission.

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) being signed into law by President Clinton. TANF, known as CalWORKS in California, was built on the premise that welfare should only be temporary, that it was preferable for parents of children to work, and that jobs were available if people would only look for them. In the boom years of the 90s, this policy choice proved to be moderately successful. TANF caseloads began to drop everywhere as parents were able to find jobs.

Then came the Great Recession. Poverty rates climbed dramatically, especially child poverty rates. Child poverty in California alone grew from 18.1% in 2006 to 21% in 2009, and the increase in child poverty nationally followed a similar pattern. Rising unemployment pushed hundreds of thousands of families into poverty overnight. Continue reading