A nonpartisan think tank this week released a damning 43-page report that accuses a federal program that exists to assist single mothers of having a history “steeped in racist ideas and policies” that “strip Black women of their dignity.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) made the report, entitled TANF Policies Reflect Racist Legacy of Cash Assistance: Reimagined Program Should Center Black Mothers, public on Wednesday.

The report takes aim at Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), described by the CBPP as the nation’s primary program for providing cash assistance to families with children when parents are out of work or have very low income.

The report points to “a legacy of exclusion and subjugation” as “a major reason why TANF cash assistance, though a critical support for some, doesn’t meet the needs of most families in poverty, regardless of their race or ethnicity.”

According to Spotlight on Poverty, another nonpartisan think tank that works on policy initiatives aimed at ending poverty, there are 79,643 adults and children in North Carolina receiving TANF, while nearly 700,000 children reside in households receiving food stamps.

Meanwhile, Spotlight on Poverty reports that there are well over a half million Black and Hispanic children in the state living below the poverty rate, and 331,000 Black and Hispanic children living in families without a parent who has full-time, year-round employment.

CBPP officials describe the report as the first in a series on TANF and race that “documents more than a century of false and harmful narratives,” including the stunning pejorative that Black women are unfit mothers, along with other “paternalistic policies that sought to control Black women’s behavior and compel their labor.” 

The report also reviews how each state “implemented a federal program that has provided cash assistance to low income families over the last 25 years—and found that Black women with children repeatedly were excluded.”

On Wednesday, policy experts with the CBPP described in a conference call with reporters “how states can remove restrictive requirements placed on Black families to receive cash assistance for food, bills or rent,” according to the release. 

The report points to a Black Women Best framework developed last year in part by Janelle Jones, who now serves as the chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The framework asserts that if Black women, “who, since our nation’s founding, have been among the most excluded and exploited by the rules that structure our society can one day thrive in the economy, then it must finally be working for everyone.” 

Redesigning TANF so that it centers the needs of Black women and families, “would better serve families of all races and ethnicities, improving child outcomes and reducing hardship,” the CBPP report states; that is, when Black mothers thrive, all mothers do. 

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Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.