Tennessee is increasingly adopting “a two-generation approach” to fighting poverty, which combines the focus on parents and children when it comes to food stamps and other cash assistance programs.
The approach may indeed pay off and is being implemented across more and more states, yet, it still appears to be an experiment without much hard data to back it up as ending in significant success. Meanwhile, many have argued for years that such programs only extend and even expand poverty.
Since 2007, the number of Americans on SNAP has exploded, going from approximately 22 million people at the start of the recession in 2008 to more than 45 million in 2013. The program provides these families a much-needed safety net as they struggle to get back on their feet, according to Jennifer Brooks, policy director with the progressive Corporation for Enterprise Development based in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, calls to reform the system from the Right, as with this one from the Heritage Foundation, often go ignored.
For now, this seems to be the direction Tennessee officials are choosing and only the future will determine if it’s a success.
Tennessee’s agency that administers food stamps and cash assistance programs says it has fundamentally altered its approach: designing programs to benefit entire households, rather than choosing between children and their parents.
Tennessee has embraced this concept gradually in recent years, called a “two-generation approach.” And in a report to the Aspen Institute this month, the state Department of Human Services said it is no longer just an initiative, but rather the way the agency does business.
“One thing we know for sure is that, when we’re focusing on both the parent and the child, we are able to break generational cycles of poverty,” DHS commissioner Danielle Barnes says.
The state is building on pilot programs like one where a nurse visits first-time mothers on cash assistance at home to give parenting tips and check on the baby’s health. For high school students, the state is making sure parents on food stamps get teens enrolled in Tennessee’s free community college program.
The Department of Human Services does note that it takes some work to still comply with federal regulations. The agency also emphasized that the programs are young and will need to be closely measured to make sure they don’t just sound like good ideas, but actually do more to lift people out of poverty.