New Mexico’s HSD lied to New Mexicans about welfare statistics

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The New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) has constantly used misleading statistics when describing the increase in TANF (welfare) recipients in New Mexico. In 2011, they used these misleading statistics to convince the public that it was necessary to implement the largest cut to the program in history. They authorized a 15% reduction in the monthly benefit. HSD explained that they needed to cut the program in order to save money for FY 2011-2012, but they conviniently kept the cuts in place until present day. The startling fact is that they claimed a 45% increase in participation at the time, but the truth is that participation was at its lowest rate in New Mexico history when they made that claim.

It is time for New Mexican’s to know the truth. The welfare program was designed to help families and allow children to grow up to be productive members of society. The welfare program gave single parents the ability to be at home to raise their children instead of working multiple jobs. The TANF program eliminated that help and transferred the money to substandard childcare programs. Is it any wonder why the cycle of poverty continues? Children need a parent to guide them, not state-funded childcare providers.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee describes the original intent of welfare as :

” TANF was created in the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193). It replaced the New Deal program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), originally called Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), that provided monthly cash welfare benefits to needy families with children. ADC was an outgrowth of “mothers pensions,” State-level programs originating in the Progressive era that provided fatherless families economic support to “release from the wage-earning role the person whose natural function is to give her children the physical and affectionate guardianship necessary not alone to keep them from falling into social misfortune, but more affirmatively to rear them into citizens capable of contributing to society.” (Committee on Economic Security, p. 36, 1935).

In 1996 the U.S. Government overhauled the existing Welfare programs to create a new program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The program was designed to reduce the caseload of welfare families and to reduce dependance on welfare. In reality, it was Corporate America’s attempt to increase their labor pool.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee explains:

“The savings from the welfare caseload decline have been used by States for a wide range of services and noncash benefits. A large share of TANF’s “non welfare” spending goes to either child care (as discussed above) or the child welfare system to help children who have been subjected to, or are at-risk of, abuse or neglect. Other “non-welfare” benefits and services cover the gamut of activities often discussed in the debate to combat or alleviate poverty among families with children: supplementing earnings through State add-ons to the Earned Income Tax Credit to assist working poor families; providing early childhood education programs for pre-schoolers and after-school programs for youth; supporting postsecondary education for needy parents; supporting job retention and advancement programs; and helping noncustodial parents.”

NEW MEXICO HSD MISLEADS PUBLIC

On September 30, 2010, the NM Human Services Department (HSD) published HSD Register volume 33, No 35Cash Assistance Benefit Determination PROPOSED. The register announced a public hearing, to be held on October 29, 2010, to discuss a proposed regulatory amendment which would allow HSD to adopt a new calculation for monthly TANF benefits. The announcement states that “TANF is reaching maximum expenditures due to budgetary constraints.”

On October 26, 2010, HSD issued Interdepartmental Memorandum ISD GI 10-62, Active Proposed Regulations. In this memorandum HSD states:

“A combination of factors, including significant growth in TANF participation, has led the Department into a situation this year of facing a shortfall in the TANF cash assistance budget. This has forced the Department into making some tough decisions in order to be able to continue TANF cash benefits.”

The Memorandum goes on to explain:

“To help meet its projected obligations for state fiscal year 2011 and 2012, the Department is proposing a new calculation methodology to determine the monthly benefit of TANF, Education Works and State Funded Alien cash assistance programs.”

On December 16, 2010, HSD published the Final regulations in HSD Register Vol 33 No 57 Cash Assistance Reduction with Rules. The register states that nobody from the public attended the hearing and no written comments were received regarding the proposed amendments. HSD updated NMAC 8.102.620.9 (C) to include the 15% TANF benefit reduction and set an effective date of January 1, 2011.

TANF STATISTICS

A May 2012 Legislative Finance Committee Brief noted that New Mexico received a federal block grant of $120.2 million for TANF in FY 12. The brief goes on to mention:

“Although New Mexico reduced cash benefits by 15% in FY 11, cash benefits have remained a high state priority given the approximately 17,871 cases (43,863 individuals). That current caseload, though declining, remains almost 45% higher than before the recession.”

What the LFC Brief fails to note is which year they chose as the base for the statistical claim. HSD may have used FY 07 which was the lowest caseload in any fiscal year since the creation of TANF in 1996. Although FY 07 seems the most likely as the date they are using, the numbers do not match. A more accurate comparison would have been FY 2005. In FY 2005, there were 17, 566 cases which is almost identical if population growth is factored into the equation. To compare, in FY 2005, roughly 2.3% of New Mexico’s population participated in TANF. In FY 2011, 2.1% of the population participated in TANF. Therefore, the base year is very important when making such statements.

Currently, there are 33,486 individuals participating in TANF.9 The year before the recession (FY 08), there were 35,526 individuals participating. In FY 2007, there were roughly 33,438 participants. The participation rates are: FY 07 1.68%; FY 08 1.70%; FY 13 1.60%. Thus, we are currently at the lowest participation rate of any year since TANF was created. Below is a chart of total individuals participating in TANF in the month of June since 1997:

DATE TOTAL PARTICIPATION DATE TOTAL PARTICIPATION
1997 78,404 2006 40,111
1998 76,695 2007 33,438
1999 76,589 2008 35,526
2000 66,381 2009 44,044
2001 55,940 2010 49,849
2002 45,923 2011 47,627
2003 42,539 2012 41,470
2004 43,736 2013 33,486
2005 42,994    

 The numbers in the chart indicate that there is no possible way that the 45% number quoted in the LFC Brief could have been correct. That calculation would suggest that there were only 24,125 individuals on TANF at some point in time.  The fact is, New Mexico has never had a single month that low since TANF was created. The lowest caseload for a month was 33,334 in July 2007.  The current caseload for June 2013 is the third lowest total of all-time and the lowest participation rate ever. In June 2008, New Mexico spent $140.28 per person on TANF. In June 2012, New Mexico spent $119.14 per person.

CONCLUSION

The New Mexico HSD used misleading statistics to convince the public that welfare was going out of control. The TANF Benefit Adjustment was supposed to assist HSD “meet its projected obligations for state fiscal year 2011 and 2012.” The Department used “significant growth in TANF participation” as the only specific reason for the budget shortfall. New Mexico is currently in FY 2013 and the amendment is still included in NMAC 8.102.620.9. Participation rates are at an all-time low and the block grant has remained at its pre-recession level. HSD has not held a public hearing to extend the amendment beyond the specifically requested FY 11 and FY 12.