Economics in Brief: Amid Rising Poverty Rates, States Allow $5.2 Billion in TANF Funds to Go Unspent

Also: Dallas HBCU offers incoming students a surprise bonus, and more.

(Credit: via #FFCU)

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States are Unnecessarily Holding on to $5.2 Billion in TANF Funds

States are using their discretionary powers to stockpile nearly $5.2 billion in unspent TANF funds, ProPublica reports.

Bonnie Bridgforth, a newly single mother, was struggling to care for her family of five after her husband was incarcerated. While Bridgforth initially received aid from the state while pregnant with her youngest child, the state removed her assistance two years after she found a minimum wage job at a local gas station in Maine.

During the same year, Maine had one of the highest rates of unspent funds, at $111 million.

And though rates of poverty have fluctuated because of the pandemic, TANF acceptance rates have continued to decline. In Maine, this is partly attributed to new laws that limit families from receiving welfare for more than five years. The caseload in that state dropped from 13,522 in 2012, to 4,320 in 2018.

Application rates for TANF have declined nationwide. “Many families living below the poverty line are deciding that the benefits TANF provides are not worth the onerous upfront requirements to get on and stay on the program,” said LaDonna Pavetti, a welfare expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Reserves are going up because caseloads are going down.”

Next City’s Oscar Perry Abello has reported on state-by-state attempts to starve TANF programs, and how that has spurred the rollout of guaranteed income programs in cities across the U.S.

Dallas HBCU Offers Incoming Students a Surprise Bonus for Family & Friends

Newly admitted students at Paul Quinn College won’t be enrolling for college alone, the Texas Tribune reports.

Instead, the Dallas college announced that more than 400 students from five Fort Worth high schools had the option to select two family or friends to enroll with them in the fall. This initiative is part of a new admissions and recruiting program that seeks to remove the pressure and burden first-generation college students face.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a higher education policy and sociology professor at Temple University, praised the innovative solution, telling the Tribune “[They’re] recognizing that you can take a student and get them more education, but if the family doesn’t have resources, there is a pull towards home that can bring them down.”

For Ke’shawn Rubell, a high school senior, the program has the potential to provide his family members with a second chance. “My mother was working job to job, and my brother, he was in and out of jail, so it was just me going to school,” Rubell told the Tribune. “That took a big toll on me. It changed my mindset mentally, knowing that I need to make a change.”

Students that received the honors had a 3.0 GPA and qualified for federal financial aid. The family or friends they choose to enroll with would then either pursue a bachelor’s degree through an online program or would complete a short-term re-skilling and credentialing program called PQCx.

New York’s Newest Food Procurement Bill Would Promote Food Sustainability

The State of New York is considering a new values-based food procurement model, according to the digital newsmagazine The River

The bill would encourage municipalities and local establishments to follow the model of Los Angeles’ Good Food Purchasing Program, which encourages organizations to purchase from local suppliers that prioritize sustainability and equity, and that produce food with greater nutritional value, so long as their bids are within 10 percent of the lowest bidder. (Next City has covered the GFPP before, in our feature “Can Cities Ever Elminate Hunger?”)

And while the program has gained traction in New York City and Buffalo over the past few years, the proposed statewide legislation could be especially beneficial in a state where 98% of farming operations are family-owned businesses.

The program would provide farmers with a number of pathways that would allow them to qualify for extra consideration during the bidding process. These include adopting fair labor practices and equity provisions for minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as proving that they have locally sourced at least 51% of the raw materials their business uses.

Read more about the power of procurement in this Next City ebook.

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Solcyre (Sol) Burga was an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2021. Burga graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in political science and journalism in May of 2022. As a Newark native and immigrant, she hopes to elevate the voices of underrepresented communities in her work.

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Tags: dallassocial servicesprocurementguaranteed incomehigher education

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