Media coverage of the welfare caseload puzzle

Ron Jenkins of the Associated Press wrote an article that ran this weekend picking up on OK Policy’s recent blog post examining the puzzle of why TANF cash assistance caseloads have been so slow to rise since the onset of the economic downturn. I’m quoted as wondering whether years of policies aimed at keeping people off TANF have weakened the program to the point where it may not be well-equipped to serve those in genuine need:

Because of low payments, red tape in federal law and state policies, “You may have reached the point where people have stopped treating TANF as something that is available,” Blatt said.

He said there are detrimental consequences if that is the case. “If there is no income, that can lead to homelessness and other kinds of problems that are worse. We think TANF is an important part of the safety net, particularly now that we are seeing this steep rise in joblessness.”

Sunday’s New York Times included an op-ed by Barbara Ehrenreich harshly critical of the TANF program for placing enormous barriers to assistance.  While her conclusions may not all apply to the program in Oklahoma, the article offers some important insights into the puzzle of stagnant caseloads. We are continuing to actively explore these issues along with staff at DHS, and will keep you informed as we learn more.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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