February 7, 2024

5 Reasons Why Florida Lawmakers Should Repeal the Outdated ‘Family Cap’ Law

Florida is one of a dwindling number of states that have not yet[1] repealed “family cap,” an antiquated law that cuts assistance for newborns in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is the only statewide program in Florida that provides temporary cash assistance to meet basic needs of children living with parents in financial crisis. 

Family cap was enacted by the Florida Legislature almost 30 years ago based on the false sexist and racist stereotype that cash assistance participants, particularly Black women, give birth to more children for the purpose of getting additional benefits. Although these tropes have been debunked, women continue to be punished for their reproductive decisions under state law. For example, if a family receives TANF for one child, Florida cuts by 50 percent the amount of assistance the household would otherwise receive for a second child.[2] Further, the family cap law denies all financial assistance to any subsequent children. Unless the parent is incarcerated or institutionalized — or the family can prove that the baby is the result of rape, incest, or sexual exploitation — the state will never provide cash assistance to help support that child.  

Today’s lawmakers are not the same lawmakers who first passed family cap almost three decades ago. Nonetheless, they are now tasked with fixing the state’s inadequate safety net so that all babies have a chance at success, regardless of their parent’s economic circumstances.  

1. Repealing TANF’s family cap will help families meet the essential needs of vulnerable newborns.

Floridians with newborns who are subject to TANF’s family cap are hard pressed to meet the needs of their babies. When a baby is excluded from the program, families must make the TANF benefits they receive for other children in the family stretch to take care of the infant. This is because Florida’s TANF benefits are among the lowest in the country and are already insufficient to meet a family’s needs, even when all family members are part of the TANF household. The maximum benefit payment for a family of three in Florida has remained fixed at $303 since 1992 — this is below 86 percent of the current Federal Poverty Level (FPL). If Florida’s TANF payments had kept up with inflation, TANF for a family of three would be $673, more than double the current level. At the same time, the cost of living in Florida increased by 8 percent in 2023 alone. The state’s family cap law pushes TANF participants further into poverty by forcing them to do more with less and makes it unlikely, if not impossible, for them to meet even the most basic needs of children participating in the program.

When a baby is excluded from the program, families must make the TANF benefits they receive for other children in the family stretch to take care of the infant.

2. Family cap laws were enacted based on untrue stereotypes about TANF participants.

Family cap was enacted in Florida decades ago after lawmakers fell for racist and sexist tropes stereotyping TANF participants, particularly Black women, as irresponsible mothers who give birth for the purpose of getting additional benefits. However, the notion that TANF influences reproductive choice is a myth.  In reality, when lawmakers passed family cap, TANF households had, on average, fewer than 2 children — the same as today. As families participating in TANF know, although every extra dollar helps, adding more children to a TANF household does not create a financial boom. Without family cap, two parents with one child would only be eligible for a modest additional $61 a month at most in TANF assistance if they had another baby.

3. Abortion restrictions compel the repeal of family cap to protect newborns. 

In 2022, Florida enacted a law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks. Although lawmakers said that the intent was to protect unborn children in the state, infants born to families with very low income remain subject to family cap. In Florida, over 14 percent of children live in poverty. Repealing the state’s family cap law would provide families struggling to make ends meet with critical resources to help give their babies a better life.[3]

4. Repeal of family cap would not be costly to the state. 

Since 1997, Florida’s TANF caseload has fallen from about 147,500 families  to 27,500 families, a decline of 81 percent. Since repeal of family cap is likely to affect very few of these families, the cost to the state would be minimal, yet make a significant difference to affected families and their babies.

5. Florida is one of only seven states that have not repealed family cap.

Most states that instituted family cap have now discontinued that policy. In Georgia, which did away with family cap in 2023, the repeal was formally endorsed by Gov. Brian Kemp.  By repealing the family cap, lawmakers in those states have taken an important step towards ensuring that babies do not grow up in poverty and that households have resources they need to ensure a better life for their children. Families in Florida deserve the same chance. The first step is to repeal Florida’s family cap by passing SB 1654 and HB 641.



[1] Two bills (SB 1654 and HB 641) have been introduced by Florida lawmakers during the 2024 legislative session to repeal “family cap.”

[2] As an example, the maximum TANF assistance available for a two-person family (caregiver and child) in Florida is $241. If a baby is born to that TANF participant, who is already receiving assistance for another child, the new baby’s assistance would be cut to $31 per month, instead of the full additional $62 the household would otherwise receive

[3] In 2022, families with two children in Florida were only provided, on average, $241 in TANF cash assistance. 

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