By William Patrick, The Center Square
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has announced landmark funding increases for several social programs beginning in January.
Eligible recipients for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Social Security and veterans’ initiatives will see the largest benefit increases and cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments in decades, the department said.
TANF cash assistance will increase for the first time since July 2000, as eligible recipients will receive about twice the previous cash amount in an effort to match the national average.
“We know there are many more families who could benefit from the programs, not only for the much-needed cash assistance but also for the valuable workforce development and educational opportunities these programs offer. We hope this increase in benefit amounts will attract more people and encourage them to apply,” DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said.
A department statement said the cash increase will apply to 1,484 households enrolled in the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP) and 1,338 households in the Kinship Care (KCSP) subsidies program.
“FITAP aims to decrease the long-term dependence on welfare assistance by promoting job preparation and work, while KCSP lifts the financial burden of qualified relatives caring for a child whose parents are not in the home,” the statement said.
The FITAP changes will allow a family of three to receive $484 in monthly cash assistance in January, as opposed to $240 this month. A family of five will see cash assistance jump from $327 to $654.
The KCSP monthly benefit will increase from $222 per eligible child to $450 per eligible child.
States have broad flexibility regarding how they spend TANF money. A recent Legislative Auditor’s report showed the DCFS received $1.6 billion in federal TANF funding since 2012, or $163 million per year.
More than half of fiscal year 2021 TANF funds were dedicated to pre-kindergarten and child welfare programs, auditors said, while cash assistance represented 8% of total funds, or $13 million out of $163 million.
The cash assistance portion of TANF funds could top 16% of program funds, or $26 million, in the coming year.
The department said inflation was a main reason for the historic cash assistance increase.
“Inflation has increased 61% since these benefit amounts were last increased in July 2000, meaning what could be purchased for $1 in 2000 now costs about $1.61 today according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics,” the statement said.
Inflation was also part of the reasoning that led to the largest COLA increase in 40 years in regard to Social Security and veterans’ benefits, according to the department.
Both federally funded program areas will see a 5.9% COLA increase in January based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier this month the CPI, a key inflation measure, rose by 6.8% in November 2021 compared with November 2020.
The new monthly COLA adjustment will apply to Social Security Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance (RSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.
“The 5.9% increase to benefits is the largest COLA increase since 1982,” the department said.
An unintended consequence, however, will be a reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, for more than 75,000 Louisiana households, a statement said.
The COLA increases are considered income, which affects income-based eligibility requirements.
“In January, 75,122 households (about 18% of all SNAP households in Louisiana) will see an average reduction of about $31 in monthly benefits, due primarily to the COLA. Another 272 SNAP cases will close, as the increased income pushes those households over the eligibility limit,” the department said.