It’s rare to see anything positive coming out of Springfield on social welfare, but a bill that recently passed both houses of the General Assembly may be a turn in the right direction. HB2262 would entirely remove the asset eligibility requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the cash assistance program for families living at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
If a family had more than $3,000 in assets such as bank account savings or a car, the TANF asset test would have determined that they were ineligible to receive the $432 in monthly financial assistance, according to the Illinois Asset Building Group. By setting the bar for asset eligibility so low, the law disincentives people from saving – a key part of ending poverty, argues Lucy Mullany, a senior policy associate at Heartland Alliance, a Chicago-based advocacy organization for low-income populations. She is also a coordinator for the Illinois Asset Building Group, a statewide coalition advocating for policies that help build asset wealth for low-income people. The group is part of a statewide coalition that led the push to eliminate the TANF asset test, along with other organizations, including the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the Woodstock Institute.
“The asset test on TANF really prevents families from building the financial security and the financial independence they are going to need,” said Mullany, arguing that with less than $3,000 in savings, a family is ill-prepared for an emergency as small as a last-minute car repair.