Small voices with a big stake in state budget outcome

Chuck Sheketoff

Poor children don’t have a megaphone. They can’t create a dark money-funded group to pay for TV ads that attack lawmakers for their ideas.

Yet, Oregon’s most vulnerable kids have an outsized stake in the current tax and budget negotiations in the legislature. Many children in families receiving rudimentary cash and job training assistance through Oregon’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program would pay a steep price with budget cuts, should a revenue solution fail to materialize.

Sadly, this is nothing new. Whenever the state faces a shortfall, the TANF program often ends up on a budget cuts list, for two reasons. First, unlike Medicaid, the federal TANF block grant structure provides little incentive for Oregon to maintain its own TANF investments. Second, there is no large, politically powerful industry with a financial stake in TANF to go to bat for them with the politicians.

Right now, the legislature’s budget writers have warned that, in the absence of new revenue, TANF is in the crosshairs. As the Oregon Center for Public Policy has outlined in a recent paper, the proposed cuts would drive 11,000 poor kids deeper into poverty, making their life prospects even bleaker.

For instance, one proposal would make the TANF lifetime time limits significantly harsher than they already are. As a result, after 48 months, the maximum cash grant for a parent with two children would drop from $506 per month to $348 per month, despite the parent’s efforts to become employed. At 60 months, the grant would drop to zero. Families with physical and mental health barriers to work need more time and support to overcome them. As such, this cut would harm children who already face great barriers to a successful life.

Other proposed cuts are equally harsh and would impact children in households with disabilities and children being raised by relatives.

Oregon’s poorest kids don’t have a megaphone. It is up to us — you — to speak loudly on their behalf.


Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.