Some states did that. Other states used TANF to plug all sorts of holes in their budgets, in particular child welfare budgets, turning TANF into a child welfare slush fund. In some cases, this led to poor people subsidizing the middle class – in particular middle class people who wanted to adopt poor people's children.
So in Connecticut, for example, The Hartford Courant exposed how more than $100 million in TANF money that could have been used to provide day care for low income families instead had been diverted into child abuse investigations and foster care with strangers. So the money that could have helped a single mother find child care for her children while she worked instead goes into investigating her on a "lack of supervision" charge because she can't get child care. Texas also uses TANF for foster care and child abuse investigations.
In preparing our forthcoming report on child welfare in Michigan we found that several years ago, Michigan pulled almost all state funds out of prevention and family preservation. Almost every dime now comes from the federal government and almost all of that is from TANF. Michigan's prevention and family preservation money is, in effect, stolen from other uses that could have helped the same families.
But it gets worse.In Michigan, more than $41 million in TANF money is diverted each year into adoption subsidies and adoption support services. (Ohio does the same thing on a smaller scale.) Some of that money may go to impoverished grandparents adopting grandchildren. But there is no means test for adoptive families who want this help. Indeed, had Madonna chosen to adopt her child from the Michigan foster care system instead of Africa, she would have been eligible for a subsidy – taken out of money intended to be used to help poor people become self-sufficient.
There are good reasons to provide adoption subsidies without a means test. The issue is where that money should come from. It should shock the conscience that wealthy adoptive parents can be given children from poor families, and then get money that should have gone to keep those poor families together in the first place.
But for shocking the conscience, it would be hard to top Georgia. What that state has done to poor people trying to get help from TANF is documented in a searing story from Mother Jones that ought to be required reading in the White House and among those on the left who may have come to think that maybe welfare "reform" wasn't so bad after all.
Among the most notable findings in the story is something mentioned almost in passing:
It seems that Georgia "cut spending on child care and put the[TANF] money into child protective services in the wake of a lawsuit against the state over the mistreatment of children in foster care."
That would be the lawsuit brought by the group that so arrogantly calls itself "Children's Rights." No doubt they would say they never told Georgia to find the money to meet its demands by taking it out of the pockets of poor people. But apparently, they didn't tell Georgia not to do it either.
CR's founder, Marcia Lowry, likes to say that she doesn't know how to fix poverty, but she knows how to fix foster care.
In fact, the results of most of her lawsuits suggest she doesn't know how to fix foster care either. But Marcia, if you're going to keep trying, could you at least not make the poverty worse in the process?