Federal Welfare Programs Can Have Negative Effects on Children’s Cognitive Scores, MU Researchers Find’

 Federal Welfare Programs Can Have Negative Effects on Children’s Cognitive Scores, MU Researchers Find’

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The United States federal government supports many welfare
and entitlement programs that attempt to eliminate poverty by providing
financial assistance to families in need. Now, a researcher at the University of
Missouri has found that requirements for some of these welfare programs can
create stress on families, which can have a negative effect on young
children.

Colleen Heflin, an associate professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs
at the University of Missouri, studied the cognitive scores of young children
whose families receive assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF), which is the largest federal support program for families with children.
Heflin found that the cognitive scores of three-year-old children whose families
were on TANF were much lower than children who were not on the
program.

“Our findings suggest that the way these assistance programs are structured
could have negative effects on child outcomes,” Heflin said. “While TANF
traditionally has been the main social program to offer financial support to
low-income households with children, current program requirements may create
pressures that conflict with the objective of improving child
outcomes.”

For example, families receiving assistance from TANF must comply with
requirements ranging from drug testing and attending job development classes to
accepting minimum wage jobs that require single mothers to be away from their
families during evenings and weekend. By examining results from a Princeton
University and Columbia University “Fragile Families and Child Well-Being”
study, Heflin found that the stress created within the family when parents are
trying to meet these requirements ultimately results in the decreased cognitive
scores of the young children. However, Heflin found that social programs based
in the tax system, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, show no such negative
effects on the children of the household.

“The design of the program matters,” Heflin said. “An income-increasing
program through the tax system doesn’t show these negative effects. However,
programs like TANF seem to hurt kids, which is the opposite of what we want our
social programs to be doing. We don’t create policies to hurt young children, we
try to help them. TANF has created enough pressure on families trying to comply
with its regulations that it has actually begun to exert a negative force on
these families at the margins.”

Heflin says the next step in her research will be to study the federal
Unemployment Insurance program to see what effects that program has on children.
This study was published in Children and Youth Services Review and was
co-authored Sharon Kukla-Acevado, an assistant professor at Central Michigan
University.

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