OLYMPIA – Families that rely on Washington’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program could see an additional boost in benefits along with clarified expectations under legislation passed today by the Senate.

Senate Bill 5214, sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-West Seattle), would allow more families to continue using the vital social program during times of high statewide unemployment.

The bill passed on a 29-19 vote and would allow for hardship extensions beyond the 60-month lifetime TANF limit if state unemployment is at or above 7 percent.

“Even before the public health crisis we are currently in, it was clear that our communities were not receiving all of the resources they needed to thrive,” said Nguyen. “Now, with an increased need for services for Washington families, it’s more important than ever that we make investments in the families that need an additional boost.”

2020 saw both a spike in unemployment applications and an increased demand for cash and food assistance as the coronavirus pandemic and corresponding public health actions resulted in business closures statewide.

“We shouldn’t be penalizing people who are unable to find work during an economic crisis,” Nguyen said. “Instead, we should be lifting residents up and using the tools we have to help Washington families get to the other side of a difficult time.”

SB 5214 would apply retroactively, covering any month after March 2020 with a statewide unemployment rate of 7 percent or more. It will now head to the House for consideration.