Opinion

Illinoisans may no longer have to prove they need welfare

SPRINGFIELD — Folks in Illinois looking for cash grants from the government may no longer have to prove they need it.

Illinois lawmakers have sent to Gov. Pat Quinn a plan to end so-called “means tests” for anyone applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grants, better known as TANF grants.

TANF grants are essentially cash disbursements to low-income parents or families. Watchdog investigations have shown they can be spent on practically anything.

There is a sliding-scale income requirement for TANF money eligibility. A family of four, for example, cannot make more than $982 dollars a month. A single person cannot make more than $479 a month.

Anyone receiving TANF has to work at least 30 hours a week to get the cash, but there are dozens of exemptions that lower or eliminate those work requirements.hungry girl

And, at least for a little while longer, Illinois TANF applicants have to show they do not have more than $3,000 in assets. But that list does not include a home, one car, a retirement plan or pension, and any savings for children.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, said that in 2012 Illinois tested 119,000 TANF applicants and rejected only eight.

“The state’s administrative cost far exceeds the very small number of families disqualified by this policy,” Hunter told lawmakers Wednesday.

Hunter said that while many states are moving to end means testing for TANF, she is quick to say federal welfare-to-work reforms from the 1990’s are strong enough to discourage fraud.

Illinois has seen its TANF population steadily grow over the past decade.

In 2003, just more than 108,000 people received TANF grants. Last year, more than 131,000 people got some cash from the government.

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said that number is sure to grow once Illinois lowers the financial eligibility requirements.

“One of the reasons we only had eight people that were disqualified was that most people that were applying (for TANF) were following the law,” Syverson said. “I can understand why there wouldn’t be a lot of people found that they were illegally signed up for the program.”

While there are few people rejected from the TANF program, there are growing questions about how that money is being spent. The Chicago Tribune recently penned an editorial highlighting TANF money used for liquor, cigarettes and even bail money.

Democrats in the Illinois Senate contend the state doesn’t need a means test for the cash grants.

State Sen. Dan Biss, D-Evanston, said low income families who work low wage jobs almost never have enough assets to warrant a means test.

“It is simply inconceivable, if you work out the arithmetic, that someone would meet (the TANF) requirements and not be in need,” Biss added.

But Syverson said if Illinois stops checking, the state will never know.

“We don’t know how many people will qualify,” Syverson warned lawmakers. “Because there is no asset test, would anyone who is going to college or in a job training program now qualify?”

The legislation now heads to Quinn’s desk.

Published with permission from Watchdog.org

Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected] and find him on Twitter @ILWatchdog.

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Watchdog.org is a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity.

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