A Round of Applause for Mayor Gray’s Work on TANF
Last week, Mayor Gray announced some good news for parents who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). He has identified $11 million in unspent dollars from other city agencies to put in place important TANF reforms, which were not funded when the Fiscal Year 2013 budget was passed this spring. Pending DC Council approval, this funding will accelerate the implementation of the newly redesigned TANF employment program and delay a scheduled benefit cut for six months for some families. This is a great first step in ensuring that parents who want to do better for themselves and their kids will have access to the services they need to secure employment.
Under this “Accelerated Plan,” all TANF parents will receive a one-on-one assessment by April 1, 2013, six months earlier than the Department of Human Services anticipated. The new assessment process provides an in-depth evaluation of each parent’s strengths and barriers to employment, such as lack of child care or low literacy skills. Speeding up the assessment process will allow these parents to more quickly address barriers and participate in employment services. The $11 million in newly identified funds also will allow the Department of Human Services to add 900 slots to the existing 3,000-person capacity for parents to receive services with TANF employment services providers.
Mayor Gray also found $2.9 million in funding to forestall any cuts in cash assistance for families until next April, preserving critical dollars for more than 6,000 families who would have had their benefits cut before they even have a chance to access employment services. But this is less than the plan adopted by the DC Council, which would delay cuts until next October recognizing that many families need more than just a few months to prepare for work. Funding for this delay was not included within the budget for fiscal year 2013, but instead was placed on the top of the Revenue Estimate Contingency Priority List, the “wish list” of items that will get funded only if the city’s revenue projections improve. The District’s Chief Financial Officer forecasted no additional revenue in his June report, due to concerns about worldwide economic conditions and the threat of federal sequestration cutbacks. These are ongoing concerns, making it likely that the revenue projections in September and December also will fail to provide additional funding to help these families.
Unfortunately, Mayor Gray’s newly identified funding is not enough to protect particularly vulnerable families who need time to deal with serious issues that interfere with their ability to work, such as domestic violence, illness, or the demands of caring for a family member with a disability. Under current rules, the District doesn’t require families in these circumstances to be looking for work, but each family’s 60-month time limit clock continues to run. In most states, the time clock stops when a parent faces a temporary problem that limits their ability to work. This past spring, the DC Council agreed with this approach taken by other states, that these families should receive a time limit break to give them sufficient time to access job services. But maintaining benefits is on the wish list, dependent on improving revenue projections leaving these vulnerable parents and their children at-risk.
DCFPI thanks the Mayor for his hard work in helping the more than 31,000 children and their parents on TANF get the resources they need to be successful. But there is more work to be done. We urge Mayor Gray to work with the DC Council to identify $5.8 million to forestall benefit cuts for one full year and maintain benefits for particularly vulnerable families. By working together, they can keep families on a path of progress and independence.