State Policy Choices and Responsiveness of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program During the Great Recession

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The Great Recession that officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 was the most severe recession since the Depression of the 1930s. To accurately explain the number of families and children receiving cash assistance from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) during the 2007 recession, it is important to capture state-level variations in recessionary periods, economies, and TANF policies. This study breaks ground by using multiple regression to explain the number of families enrolled in the TANF program when the TANF caseload peaked in each of the 51 jurisdictions’ recessions as a function of their severe TANF policies while controlling for benefit levels, unemployment rates, and size of populations. Key findings strongly suggest that all else constant, TANF did not grow as much as it would have in the 2007 recession partially due to shorter lifetime limits (less than 60 months) or temporary time limits, multiple severe policies, or benefit cuts witnessed in some states. This study is important to policy makers and academics concerned with the effect of severe policies on the enrollment of needy families with children in the TANF program. The federal government should encourage states to relax some of their requirements during recessions. Future research should examine the consequences of severe TANF policies on the well-being of families with children during recessions. © 2016 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.