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Indiana senators advance expansion of welfare program’s eligibility

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A shelter director who works with families in need said Monday that a welfare expansion bill in the Indiana Legislature isn’t enough, but it’s a good start.

Breanna Klink, the program director for Holy Family Shelter, said whenever a family comes to her team for help, the first thing shelter staff do is help them apply for any public assistance programs for which they qualify. In many cases, she said Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is the first thing to come through. All too often, though, she said families apply only to learn they don’t qualify.

“It is very frustrating because a lot of our families are coming in with nothing,” she said. “To get that rejection is just another rejection on top of what is likely many, things like evictions, job losses, things like that.”

Although TANF is federally funded, the states set eligibility requirements. In Indiana, longstanding income limits prevent a family of four from qualifying if they make more than $8,547 per year, one of the strictest thresholds in the country. A Senate bill now in the General Assembly would raise the income limit to 35% of the federal poverty line beginning July 1, 2025, and then to 50% of the federal poverty line on July 1, 2027. The latter figure works out to $15,000 per year for a family of four. The bill’s language means income limits would automatically adjust to inflation.

Sam Snideman, vice president of government relations for the United Way of Central Indiana, said more than 66,000 families in Indiana fall below that 50% threshold. Of those, he said, about 4,300 receive TANF benefits. Snideman said it’s hard to calculate how many additional families would qualify because of TANF’s other eligibility requirements, such as actively seeking work and not having more than $1,000 worth of assets excluding one’s home. For families that would qualify, he said, it would make a big difference.

“It can often mean the difference between being homeless and not, being hungry and not, having the ability to pay for necessary emergency expenses and not,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously at the end of January and is now assigned to a House committee. Snideman said similar legislation has passed the Senate in the past only to die in the House, but this year’s bill has a good chance of avoiding that fate.

Klink said the bill’s expansion of TANF eligibility isn’t nearly enough to meet families’ needs, but it’s better than nothing. Besides helping to buy basic necessities, she said, TANF payments can help a family re-establish credit and, above all, attain a sense of dignity.