More About Liz Schott

Liz Schott

Schott currently is a Senior Fellow with the Center's Welfare Reform and Income Support Division.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at

Effective Home Visiting Programs for High-Risk Families in Jeopardy Unless Congress Acts

March 10, 2014 at 3:12 pm

A federal-state partnership that supports family- and child-related home visiting programs in every state is slated to expire October 1, threatening a host of programs that are effective at strengthening high-risk families and saving money over the long run, according to a paper we issued today with the Center for Law and Social Policy.

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) targets high-risk families who are most likely to benefit from intensive home visiting services, through which trained professionals (often nurses, social workers, or parent educators) help parents acquire the skills to promote their children’s development.  MIECHV provides the federal funds, while states and localities implement the programs.  Congress provided $400 million for MIECHV this year.

When Congress created MIECHV in 2010, it authorized and funded the program for five years (fiscal years 2010 through 2014).  If Congress doesn’t extend MIECHV by September 30, when fiscal year 2014 ends, no new federal funds will be available.

Research shows that home visiting programs promote children’s health and development and improve parenting skills while cutting the number of children in the social welfare, mental health, and juvenile corrections systems, with considerable cost savings for states.  

MIECHV funds have spurred important innovations.  For example, Iowa expanded home visiting to 15 at-risk, underserved communities and is taking steps to improve program quality and coordination, such as creating a statewide data collection system and requiring state certification for all home visiting and family support practitioners.   

Failure to extend MIECHV would have unfortunate consequences for communities in every state.  Fewer families in at-risk communities would be served, and states may have to end efforts to improve data collection and assessment and strengthen coordination across programs.  Moreover, states — and the nation — would lose the opportunity to build the evidence base for these effective programs and expand them.

Click here to read the full paper.

Next Week’s SNAP Cut Will Worsen Struggles for Many TANF Families

October 23, 2013 at 4:18 pm

The cash assistance benefits that some poor families receive through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are already low, as states have allowed inflation to erode their value over time.  Now, other support that many of these same families receive is poised to fall, too, when a temporary increase in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) benefits ends next week.

As we explain in our updated analysis of state TANF programs, TANF’s benefits are worth at least 20 percent less than they were in 1996 in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation.  In every state, a family of three with no other cash income other than TANF falls below 50 percent of the federal poverty line.

Many TANF families — about 81 percent — receive SNAP benefits, which provide them with critical nutrition support.  But even the combination of the two programs doesn’t lift these families above the poverty line (see chart).

The coming SNAP cut will make it even harder for these families to meet their basic needs.  The 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to SNAP benefits, which will end on November 1, will cut benefits for every SNAP household.  For a family of three, the cut will be $29 a month — or $319 over the remaining 11 months of the fiscal year.

That cut will more than wipe out even the small TANF benefit gains that seven states have already implemented this year.  (Maryland is implementing a TANF increase of $48 for a family of three as of November 1.)  These are serious losses, especially in light of the already very low basic SNAP — and TANF — benefits.

Purchasing Power of TANF Benefits Fell Further in 2012

March 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Cash assistance for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2012, we detail in our annual update of state benefit levels under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  Most states left their benefit levels unchanged last year, so benefits continued to erode by inflation.

In 37 states, and after adjusting for inflation, benefits are now at least 20 percent below their levels of 1996 — the year policymakers created TANF.

For all states, as of July 1, 2012, benefits for a family of three with no other cash income were below half of the federal poverty line, measured as a share of the Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines for 2012 (see map).  Benefits were below 30 percent of the poverty line in the majority of states.

On the other hand, no states cut benefit levels in 2012, and a few took the opportunity to increase the benefit level or to follow through on past commitments to modestly raise benefits or adjust them for inflation.  TANF benefits increased, in nominal dollars, in New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

TANF provides a safety net to relatively few poor families:  in 2011, just 27 families received TANF benefits for every 100 poor families, down from 68 families receiving TANF for every 100 in poverty in 1996.  But for the families that participate in the program, it often is their only source of support and without it, they would have no cash income to meet their basic needs.

It’s time for states to halt the erosion of TANF benefits and slowly regain some of the purchasing power that they’ve lost over the past 16 years.

Click here to read the full paper.

Santorum’s Right: Better Access to Education Is a Key Part of Welfare Reform

August 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Former Senator Rick Santorum argues in today’s Wall Street Journal that gaining work skills through better access to education and skills training should be an essential part of welfare reform.

We agree — but these are exactly the kind of improvements that the Obama Administration’s recent announcement about waivers for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which Mr. Santorum harshly criticizes, is designed to promote.

Current TANF rules discourage states from encouraging recipients to pursue skills training or education that will help them qualify for better jobs.  States face a financial penalty if they do not have a specified percentage of their TANF caseload in work activities, and there are narrow limits on when participation in education or training can count toward that federal target.

For example, states can count vocational education toward their federal work requirement only for 12 months in a recipient’s lifetime, even though many industry-focused training and community college programs last from 18 months to two years.  Similarly, completing high school or a GED as a full-time activity counts toward the federal work requirement only for people under age 20, even though it’s very hard for anyone without these credentials to find a job these days.

Some states allow TANF recipients to participate in certain education activities even if they don’t count toward the state’s federal work requirement.  For example, Nebraska passed a law this year to allow completion of high school or a GED as a full-time work activity for TANF parents up to age 24.  But the new law also states that the option will be suspended if Nebraska risks not meeting its federal work requirement.

Fixing rules that discourage states from helping TANF families get education and skills training should be a top priority for Congress when it renews the welfare law.  In the meantime, the Administration has said it will consider granting waivers from certain provisions of the law for states that want to test whether there are more effective ways to meet TANF’s work goals — such as by allowing a longer period of vocational education in order to improve employment outcomes.  A state like Nebraska could seek a waiver so it could continue its approach of allowing recipients to complete high school or get a GED as a stand-alone work activity without risking fiscal penalty.

“We need to help clear a path for poor and low-income Americans to achieve their dreams,” Mr. Santorum writes.  That’s exactly right, and by allowing states to look for better ways to connect families to employment, the Administration has taken a step in the right direction.

A Layered Look at State Spending Under TANF

August 8, 2012 at 10:32 am

In a new paper, we’ve studied how states have used their federal and state funds under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program since it — and its structure as a block grant — replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1996.

That analysis revealed some troubling national trends, as I explained yesterday.  It’s important to remember, though, that states vary widely beneath those national, top-line numbers.  For example, national spending on basic assistance fell from 70 percent of combined federal and state TANF funds at TANF’s start to only about 29 percent in 2011.  But a state-by-state look shows that there’s more than a 50-point difference separating the states that spent the greatest and least shares of their state and federal TANF funds on basic assistance in 2011.  Nine states spent less than 15 percent, while seven others spent 40 percent or more (see chart).

We’ve prepared individual fact sheets for each state and the District of Columbia as well as an overall fact sheet on total U.S. spending trends to explain these variations in greater detail.  Each sheet includes:

  • The amount of the state’s 2011 federal TANF allocation and own spending obligation;
  • State-specific trends in spending between 1997 and 2011, including shifts in how the state has used its state and federal TANF funds over time; and
  • Detailed comparison of a state’s TANF spending in five key areas between 2011 and a decade earlier.

Click here to access the fact sheets. Interested readers can also download a spreadsheet with detailed, annual state-by-state data here.