Hard economic times often force a greater number of families to turn to public ben- efits and programs for financial help. These larger safety net caseloads are more diverse than those of strong economic times, including families who are brand-new to the safety net as well as families who, under different economic circumstances, may have needed only short-term assistance. These families may differ from tradi- tional recipients in terms of characteristics and circumstances. To understand how the New Jersey single-parent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseload changed in response to COVID-19 between April of 2019 and April of 2020, we conducted a two-step cluster analysis that identified six different types of families. Compared to the April 2019 (pre-pandemic) caseload, we found that the number of the TANF participants increased in April 2020 (during the COVID- 19 pandemic). Interestingly, we also found that the largest proportional increases in the caseload were driven by single jobless adults who are older, have at least a high school education, do not have a disability, and have fewer and older children, while the largest declines were driven by single adults with a job. Taken together, it seems that single adults with relatively better demographic circumstances are having a harder time finding jobs, and so turned to or remained on TANF in April 2020. In response to the pandemic, some, but not all, states have relaxed or temporarily suspended TANF work requirements and time limits. Our findings suggest that such changes in TANF requirements reflect empirical changes in the caseload and merit further attention, particularly in terms of federal and state budget strain.

Annie S. Lee, David Seith, Jessica L. Roman, Joanne Taylor, Annette Riordan, Amman Seehra, and Andrea Hetling

Journal of Policy Practice and Research, published online September 2021