By Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) – A bill that would expand short-term aid for Hoosier families in need for the first time in 35 years passed the Indiana State House of Representatives.
The House passed Senate Bill 265 by a 93-4 vote. The bill sponsored by state Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, would allow more families to become eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“This bill will expand the eligibility for thousands of Hoosier families in need and offer a way out of poverty,” Ford said. “Along with financial assistance, TANF provides job training, child care and transportation so that many of the hurdles folks face when looking for higher paying jobs are eliminated.”
Ford noted the cash assistance program had not changed since 1988.
During that span, the Indiana Institute for Working Families pointed out the cost of diapers increased by 150%, and gas prices have more than tripled.
In addition, while the number of Hoosier families living in poverty has increased over the last three decades, the number of those receiving TANF benefits has declined significantly.
In 1996, more than 56,000 families out of the nearly 93,000 living in poverty received assistance, but by 2020, only 6,338 get aid out of the 117,085 currently living below the poverty threshold.
At just 5.4%, Indiana has one of the lowest TANF participation rates in the nation and is far below the national average of 21%.
Currently, a family that size must make just 16% of the poverty income requirement to qualify. If SB 265 becomes law, the threshold will rise to 35% of the poverty line beginning in the 2026 fiscal year and 50% by the 2028 fiscal year.
Ford said the bill would not add any extra burden to Hoosier families since the state does not spend its entire federal allocation for the program. According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, Indiana had more than $54 million in TANF funds unallocated in 2021.
While the bill has passed both chambers, it must go back to the Senate for concurrence after an amendment approved by the House would extend benefits to women who are at least six months pregnant and qualify financially.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on Jan. 30.
Ford said he would work to get the bill to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk before the session ends later this month.