The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

TANF Coverage and Children's Wellbeing

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Julia Shu-Huah Wang, MS, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Purpose: Since welfare reform in 1996, the question of how participation of families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program influences their children’s wellbeing has been important. The work requirements and time limits of TANF may create psychological stress for families, but cash benefits as well as income generated through work may relieve parental stress and bring in additional resources that invest in children. Research examining how these conflicting factors affect children’s wellbeing has yielded inconclusive findings, and little work has been based on data gathered after 2000. 

Methods: This study uses panel data from the Survey on Income and Program Participation 2004 and 2008 panels. Each panel collected guardian-reported child wellbeing indicators (in the areas of cognitive stimulations, family interactions, parenting stress, and child educational outcomes) for each child in households at two time points (baseline and follow-up hereafter) with a 20- or 24-month interval (intervention period hereafter). I restricted the sample to children aged 0 to 17 who are U.S. citizens, responded to both time points, and were not covered by TANF in the past 12-months at baseline. The final sample size is 30,860. I employed difference-in-difference and propensity score matching (PSM) methods to examine how TANF coverage among children during the intervention period influences their change in wellbeing, accounting for baseline child wellbeing and other child, guardian, family, state, and TANF policy characteristics. PSM was used to draw a closer counterfactual condition of TANF coverage among sample members. After the matching, ordinary least square was used to analyze continuous changes in child wellbeing, and ordinal logistic regression for ordinal categorical changes. This study design holds the advantages of controlling for unobserved individual and family characteristics and attempting to deal with bias from selection into TANF coverage.  

Results: The results show that TANF coverage may significantly increase the number of breakfast guardians share with children in a week (β=.26, se=.11), increase the likelihood to have rules on watching TV (odds ratio (OR)=1.37, se=.20), increase the likelihood of guardians feeling that their children could attain more education beyond a college degree (OR=1.43, se=.15), and decrease the likelihood of children repeating grades (OR=.63, se=.13). Specifically, the increases in parental educational expectations and TV rules were robust for children under age 12, and the reduction in repeating a grade was stronger for children over age 12.

Conclusions and Implications: These results indicate that TANF coverage may have positive effects on family life structures (e.g., having breakfast together and setting TV rules) and educational expectations for children. However, TANF coverage may not improve family interactions, parenting difficulties, or investment in children’s education. To augment current TANF policies, programs and policies supporting low-income families should consider improving familial investment in time and resources for children and enhancing services that will help reduce parental stress.