Mississippi Shortchanged on Child Poverty Funding New Analysis Shows

December 8, 2011

Washington – First Focus and the Mississippi Center for Justice released a new report today, showing that funding to help Mississippi manage the growing problem of child poverty lags behind that of other states like Massachusetts and Alaska. It also recommends concrete actions Mississippi’s Congressional delegation can take right now to give Mississippi leaders the resources they need to meet children’s needs.

The report, TANF Supplemental Grants: Reforming and Restoring Support for Children Who Need it the Most, was authored by First Focus President Bruce Lesley and Senior Director, Family Economics, Megan Curran. It examines federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant funding per child in poverty. That is a critical measure, as TANF helps states meet critical needs for families with children in or near poverty, like child support enforcement funding, resources to make child care more affordable, job training to help parents hit by job losses find new careers and help young adults begin theirs, and resources to prevent child abuse and neglect and meet the needs of abuse and neglect victims.

“From child care to child abuse prevention, TANF is a lifeline for Mississippi families fighting hard to stay afloat. Congress should ensure that their lifeline is just as strong as those available to families in Massachusetts, California or Alaska,” said First Focus President Bruce Lesley.

The First Focus analysis shows that, because the 1996 welfare law that created TANF failed to index state funding levels to inflation and changes in child poverty rates (a typical shortcoming of block grants), states like Mississippi have been under-funded as inflation has eroded their TANF funding’s purchasing power and as child poverty rates have increased during tough economic times. Mississippi currently receives $376 per child in poverty while, California receives more than five times that amount at $2,021, Massachusetts receives $2,444, and Alaska $2,863.

The report also shows that Congress has attempted to mitigate this disparity through a TANF Supplemental Grants initiative, those grants only reduced the shortfall and did not level the playing field. To compound the problem, TANF Supplemental Grants will be discontinued for all states unless Congress acts to restore them. While doing so would not solve the problem, allowing TANF Supplemental Grants to expire would widen the funding gap for under-funded states.

“Mississippi has depended on the Supplemental Grant to assist families in need; without these funds, women will not be able to work because they will not be able to afford child care for their children. Mississippi’s leaders in Congress are in a great position to help,” said Mississippi Center for Justice Advocacy Director Beth Orlansky.

The First Focus Campaign for Children recommends three actions Congress can take to level the playing field for Mississippi and other under-funded states:

Adopt the TANF Supplemental Grants Extension Act (H.R. 2277) and broaden it to make other under-funded states eligible for Supplemental Grants;
Tie TANF funding to inflation and need, so funding adjusts with child population and economic changes;
Designate reducing child poverty an official purpose of federal TANF funding to states, ensuring that funds continue to meet kids’ needs during tough state budget debates

“Congress shouldn’t go home this year until they’ve restored the TANF Supplemental Grants, and next year they should fix the problem once and for all by ensuring that every state has a strong focus on lifting kids out of poverty and the resources they need to do so,” said Lesley.

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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org .

Mississippi Center for Justice is dedicated to advancing racial and economic justice. The Center combines legal services with policy advocacy, community education and media advocacy. The Center’s campaigns are creating better futures for low- wealth Mississippians and communities of color in the areas of educational opportunity, financial security, access to healthcare and child care, affordable housing and community development. For more information, visit www.mscenterforjustice.org or call (601) 352-2269.