I was reading through a Stateline news piece on welfare this week and I got to this line at the end:
"But a growing concern is that no one really knows how the state and federal TANF money is being spent."
Um, what? That concerned me. According to the piece, the federal Government Accounting Office figures that 71 percent of all the money spent on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-- TANF, a.k.a. welfare-- is being spent on stuff that's not "cash assistance."
So, nearly three-quarters of the money we spend on welfare isn't being spent on welfare? That sounded bizarre to me.
When welfare reform kicked in in the mid-'90s, the federal government changed the way it funded welfare. Instead of paying for as many people as the state enrolled, it gave each state a block grant--a big chunk of money that they could do what they like with, within reason, of course.
States were given the freedom to spend that money on cash assistance--the kind of welfare check we traditionally think of-- or on a host of other programs that help the poor, like child care assistance or work support programs. Since then, the percentage of money that goes toward cash assistance has gotten smaller and smaller nationwide.
So, what does Illinois spend its TANF block grant on? I wanted to find out.