When Congress failed to extend funding for the government last week, leading to a shutdown, it also failed to extend money for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, formally known as welfare. Experts said at the time that states should have enough cash to continue giving out benefits to their neediest residents. But one state has decided not to do that: Arizona.
Most states distribute benefits on the first of the month. But “[t]he state stopped payments averaging $207 a week to 5,200 families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families after Tuesday’s government shutdown,” the Associated Press reports. The director of the state’s Department of Economic Security has said that there are no funds available to make the payments, totaling $1 million a week. At the same time, however, the state has a $450 million rainy day fund, which some lawmakers are pushing it to tap to cover the TANF checks. Federal officials have also said states will be reimbursed for any payments they make while unable to draw down federal money.
Poverty experts LaDonna Pavetti at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Elizabeth Lower-Basch at the Center for Law and Social Policy say they aren’t aware of any other states that have decided not to cover the cost of distributing benefits during the shutdown.
If the shutdown drags on, however, more states could get nervous about covering these costs themselves. Lower-Basch previously told ThinkProgress that while most likely feel reassured that they will only have to make the payments for a few weeks, if the shutdown lasts for a month that mindset may change. And things could get really dire if the funding is put on hold indefinitely. “A state could not do everything it does with the block grant all year without it,” she said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has announced a reversal of the decision not to issue checks and will now cover the cost of welfare benefits during the shutdown. As Talking Points Memo reports, “Brewer didn’t indicate in her statement where DES would get the funding to cover the 3,200 families who still hadn’t received their benefits for October.”