April 13, 2023

Florida’s Inadequate Safety Net for Newborns: Lawmakers Should Address State’s Longstanding Neglect of TANF

Most Floridians believe that all children deserve a chance to thrive regardless of their economic circumstances, that no matter what their family’s income, all newborns should have a roof over their heads and be fed, clothed, loved, protected from the elements, and positioned for success in life.

However, the Florida Legislature has long underfunded a vital safety net program for children in the state.

Lawmakers Keep TANF Benefit Levels Unchanged for 30 Years

Although a measure banning abortions more than six weeks into a pregnancy (SB 300) is quickly making its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, state lawmakers have — for the last three decades — ignored Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This is the one statewide program that is supposed to provide cash assistance to meet the basic needs of newborns and other children living with parents who are in a financial crisis. Not only has the Florida Legislature failed to update TANF payment levels since 1992; policymakers also take away the cash assistance that otherwise would be provided to babies born to people already participating in the program — called the “family cap.” As a result, TANF benefit payments in Florida are so inadequate that it is impossible for families in the program to meet a child’s basic needs.

Abortion bans disproportionately affect women with low income. Yet, while SB 300 includes a $25 million allocation to the Florida Pregnancy Support Network — which is composed of pregnancy centers that do not offer abortion services — it does not improve the ongoing financial security of new moms and babies. Without an adequate TANF program as a safety net, more women in Florida will find themselves struggling to care for their babies.

TANF benefit payments in Florida are so inadequate that it is impossible for families in the program to meet a child’s basic needs.

Florida’s neglect of TANF has been 30 years in the making. Although one-third of states have increased TANF benefits in recent years, Florida has not provided any increase to cash assistance. The most that Florida’s TANF program provides for one child is $180 a month, too little to buy school clothes, much less to help pay the utility bill or rent. Instead, Florida lawmakers have shifted TANF funds that used to go to children in TANF families to pay for other programs, even though additional income improves a child’s chance at the future

TANF “Family Cap” Denies Recipients Funding for Having Children

Besides setting woefully inadequate TANF benefit payments, Florida lawmakers are also failing newborns in at least one other significant way.  Although infants are among the most vulnerable of all Floridians, the Legislature limits, or outright denies, TANF assistance to babies born to current program participants.

Under family cap, for the first baby born to someone already receiving TANF for another child, lawmakers cut the amount of assistance that the family would otherwise receive by 50 percent. (As an example, if a baby is born to a current TANF participant already receiving assistance for another child, the new baby’s assistance would be cut to $30 per month, instead of the full $61.) For the second or subsequent child after that, lawmakers deny the baby all financial assistance. Unless the parent is incarcerated or institutionalized — or the family can prove that the baby is the result of rape, incest, or sexual exploitation — Florida will never provide that child cash assistance.

For the second or subsequent child after that, lawmakers deny the baby all financial assistance.

Rooted in the myth that a woman receiving assistance has additional children to get more benefits, family cap is an extension of the historical legacy of attempts to exercise reproductive control over Black women. Further, research suggests that family cap is more prevalent in states with higher percentages of Black participants, like Florida. Because of this, many states that initially imposed family cap on TANF participants have since repealed those laws. Although only 10 other states still impose family cap on TANF families, Florida has done nothing to get rid of family cap, to the detriment of children who are the most in need.   

The Legislature is not doing its best to meet the basic needs of children. If Florida is serious about taking care of babies, lawmakers must update TANF payment standards and pass HB 1631, a bill pending in the Florida Legislature that would repeal the family cap — significant steps toward ensuring that loving families with low income have the means to take care of their children.

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