The experience of the Great Recession reveals important holes in the safety net. In particular, the central cash-assistance program in the United States, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), is failing to reach many poor families. In addition, the program does not automatically expand during economic downturns, when the need for the program is likely greatest and when additional consumer spending would be particularly helpful. To strengthen TANF, Marianne Bitler and Hilary Hoynes propose reforms to expand both the program’s reach and its responsiveness to cyclical downturns. They also propose ways to improve its transparency, which will help researchers and policymakers understand how the program works, who it supports, and how effectively it meets its goals.
In the years following the Great Recession, many economists and policymakers agree that fiscal stimulus was crucial to turning around the faltering economy and helped to save or create millions of jobs. What economists and policymakers do not agree on is whether the stimulus should have been larger, whether it contained the correct mix of tax cuts and targeted government spending, and how it could have best been delivered. In this Hamilton Project policy proposal, Alan Blinder tackles these questions using economic theory and recent evidence from the Great Recession to discuss how fiscal policy can be better designed to mitigate the effects of the next economic downturn.