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Job Creation Under Welfare-based Emergency Fund Threatened

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While conservatives grumble that federal antipoverty programs set back economic recovery, they're not likely to mention a unique welfare program that is creating a surprising number of new paychecks--a program that may soon fade away without renewed support from Congress.

Since it was launched as part of the Recovery Act, the TANF Emergency Fund has broadly supplemented basic public assistance programs, but in many cases, it is used to subsidize regular jobs. So far, the grant funding, administered through the states, is on track to produce hundreds of thousands of jobs in a variety of sectors from autorepair to health services. According to the policy think-tank CLASP:

As of August 19, 2010, HHS reports that 35 states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have had Emergency Fund applications approved that included subsidized employment*, for a total of $1.039 billion.... Most of the costs claimed are for wages, making this a highly efficient form of job creation. These states, and others, have plans to create at least 240,000 jobs by September using Emergency Funds.

Use of the TANF Emergency Fund got off to a slow start but is picking up speed. Subsidized jobs account for 60 percent of the applications approved for the third quarter of FY 2010.

The folks getting these jobs, it turns out, happen to be the ones that conservatives associate with wasteful "entitlement spending." Defying stereotypes of the "undeserving poor," a White House report explains:

Compared to the general population, the TANF subsidized jobs population has lower income. Almost 90% have family incomes below $25,000, compared to less than 10% of the total population.

Women are over-represented in the TANF subsidized jobs population, which is 83% female, compared to 52% in the overall population.

The subsidized jobs population is 37% African-American compared to 12% in the general population; Hispanics are slightly over-represented (18% of subsidized jobs population compared to 14% in the total population. Whites are under-represented, 40% of the subsidized jobs population versus 69% of the total.

The TANF subsidized jobs population is younger, with 60% 20-40 years old, compared to 35% of the total.

Young, Black, female, and working for a modest but meaningful wage, at a time when millions of others are sinking deeper into poverty. It's a nice rebuttal to the ranting about welfare being a useless budget sinkhole. One mother, who found a job at the Internet Archive through the TANF program, testified about how the subsidized work has helped her avoid economic collapse:

Without my job at the archive I would not have been able to afford medication for my 2 yr. old daughter who often gets sick. I was also able to send my 11 yr. old to football camp

With unemployment still hovering around 10 percent and lawmakers rapidly running out of ideas for revamping the economy, the thousands of jobs supported by TANF are no small achievement. And yet Congress might let the fund expire at the end of September. The funding cliff, warns CLASP, would cut off the job gains the program has generated and other related welfare services as well.

Killing a vital job creation program in times like these might seem irrational from an economic standpoint. But from a political standpoint, you can imagine why many GOP'ers have little incentive to promote an expansion of TANF. Especially when people of color and women--the people that the right has demonized as welfare leeches for decades--are the core constituency of this rare success among recovery programs. Supporting this initiative would make conservatives look--well, like they they're dependent on welfare.

Cross-posted from Colorlines.

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