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UNLV, Brookings Investigate Effect of Recession on Cash Assistance Programs

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Researchers studying why despite high unemployent rates, participation in programs to help low-income families stagnant
Research  |  Aug 4, 2011  |  By UNLV Media Relations
Media Contact: Contact: Afsha Bawany, (702) 895-5515

During the Great Recession of 2007, many U.S. states with rising unemployment did not see an expected increase in caseloads for a cash assistance program to help low-income families. Researchers from UNLV and the Brookings Institution have partnered to investigate why, unlike other government assistance programs, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program didn't keep pace with unemployment.

UNLV social work professor Vicky Albert and Ron Haskins, senior fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution, are examining how states' TANF cases were handled before, during and after the recessions of 2001 and 2007. The team will also propose reforms for TANF to help more families in a more timely fashion during future recessions.

"An important test of the effectiveness of TANF is how it performs during recession. It is expected that during times of high unemployment, caseloads for cash assistance would increase, not remain flat," said Albert. "We need to better understand how states can help single parents - even during recessions - get the assistance they need to get back on their feet and find employment."

In 1996, TANF replaced welfare programs known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training program and the Emergency Assistance program. TANF is funded by federal and state dollars and allocated to states for income assistance, childcare, transportation or education and job training.

Albert and Haskins will explore how the TANF response to the 2001 and 2007 recessions differs from that of AFDC to earlier recessions. They will also use publicly available data and personal interviews with TANF staffers, politicians and reporters to provide an in-depth comparison of states that experienced substantial caseload increases in response to the recession and those that did not. They will also investigate why, during the same periods, participation increased in other government programs such as the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program.

TANF is set to expire Sept. 30, pending reauthorization by the U.S. Congress. Roughly 4.4 million Americans receive assistance TANF, with 28,000 living in Nevada.

The Brookings Institution received a $60,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project in Washington D.C. and is contracting with UNLV to complete the one-year study. The collaboration between Albert and Haskins stems from Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, a partnership between UNLV and the renowned Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Through the initiative's Brookings Scholars program, Brookings experts work together with UNLV faculty on collaborative research to make improvements in infrastructure, policy and quality of life challenges that face Las Vegas and the nation.

About Vicky Albert

Vicky Albert is a professor in the school of social work at UNLV. She has studied welfare reform for more than 20 years and has published research on public assistance policies and their impact on the economic well being of families with children. In recent years, Albert has studied welfare reform policies in Nevada and presented her findings at national and international conferences.

About Ron Haskins

Ron Haskins is senior fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at Brookings. He was formerly the senior advisor to President George W. Bush on welfare policy in 2002. Haskins studies welfare reform, childcare, child support enforcement, family composition and marriage, and child protection. In 1997, he was selected by the National Journal as one of the 100 most influential people in the federal government; in 2005 he received the President's Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Human Services from the American Public Human Services Association.