few months ago in Washington, Congress passed a temporary reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block-grant program in order to prevent it from completely running out. TANF provides cash assistance to families with children that are unable to meet basic needs, while requiring work activities of parents to move families toward self-sufficiency.

We were relieved by that temporary reauthorization, but hoped TANF would be improved to better meet the needs of children and families before it came time for the full reauthorization. However, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation fully reauthorizing TANF last weekend, without addressing the flawed system of distributing funds that we were hoping would be changed. Consequently, Kentucky will continue to be shortchanged.

Just last week, First Focus and KYA released a report documenting that the flawed block-grant funding formula adopted in 1996 fails to adjust TANF funding allocations as populations and poverty rates change over time. States like Kentucky that have experienced rapid growth or rapid increases in child poverty are under-funded relative to states like Alaska, which receives higher-than-average TANF allocations despite a low child poverty rate. Kentucky currently receives $720 per child in poverty while, Illinois receives $998, West Virginia $1,209, and Ohio $1,261. Across the nation, other states receive more assistance than Kentucky: Massachusetts receives $2,444, and Alaska $2,863. In the future, The First Focus Campaign for Children and KYA hope Congress will consider the following:

  1. Broaden TANF supplemental grants to make other under-funded states eligible for Supplemental Grants;
  2. Tie TANF funding to inflation and need, so funding adjusts with child population and economic changes; and
  3. Codify the reduction of child poverty as an official purpose of federal TANF funding to states, ensuring that funds continue to meet kids’ needs during tough state budget debates

We hope that Congress will take the necessary steps next year to aid Kentucky and other underfunded states in addressing the growing child poverty problem in the same Alaska and Massachusetts can.