The Districts Dime

Progress on Family Homelessness, But Work Remains

May 24th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

New family homelessness data reveals good news in the District’s struggle to combat family homelessness, but growing rents and stagnant income still leave far too many residents homeless. Moreover, funding in the just-adopted budget for the coming year will not be enough to keep up. Making more progress will require increased funding for homeless services, but also require the District to makeNumber of Families Entering Shelter During Hypothermia giant leaps to create more affordable housing.
Family homelessness worsened dramatically in recent years, but may be leveling off now. About 1,000 families entered shelter this past winter – the same as the year before – after more than doubling in the two years before that. And the number of families seeking shelter each month decreased this past hypothermia season, from 177 in November to 66 in March.

This is likely the result of improvements the District has implemented over the past months:

Doing More to Keep Families Out of Shelter: Last fall, the District launched a new homelessness prevention program, recommended by DCFPI and its allies, modeled after successful programs in New York City and Massachusetts. Over 1,000 families have gotten help, and 90 percent stayed out of shelter. With just $1 million, the District helped 900 families avoid shelter. With the average cost of getting out of shelter roughly $50,000, this is not only keeping families stable, it is saving the District millions. The fiscal year 2017 budget includes an increase of $1 million so about 400 more families can be served.

Sheltering Families When They Need It: This past summer, the District began taking families into shelter year-round, rather than only during hypothermia season when residents have a legal right to shelter. This means the city can help families regain stability more quickly, in addition to making sure families stay out of dangerous situations, like living with an abuser. It also improves the performance of the shelter system. When shelter is available only in the winter, the system is overwhelmed at the start of hypothermia season.

DC Has Increased the Pace of Helping Families Leave Shelter: Over the past year, the number of families leaving shelter, usually for temporary housing, increased by more than one-fourth. This is important, because family well-being deteriorates more the longer they stay in shelter. Moving families out of shelter faster also helps the District accommodate new families needing shelter.

While the District’s leaders deserve credit for their progress on homeless services, the real solution requires large new investments to create affordable housing. The FY 2017 budget includes a $100 million investment to renovate or construct roughly 1,000 affordable homes. But one recent study concluded that DC needs 20,000 affordable homes for very low-income households. Homelessness is the extreme manifestation of the challenges faced by thousands of DC residents struggling to cope with the rising costs of living. We cannot succeed at keeping residents from becoming homeless, or help them leave shelter once they become homeless, without more low-cost housing options.

Kate Coventry is a DCFPI Policy Analyst and voting member of the District Interagency Council on Homelessness.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

DCFPI Welcomes Jodi Kwarciany to Our Team

May 23rd, 2016 | by DCFPI Staff

A new staff member, Jodi Kwarciany is joining the DC Fiscal Policy Institute team today! She will serve as DCFPI’s Health PJodi Bioolicy Analyst.

Jodi previously worked on a wide array of health policy topics as a Research Associate with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC. Before arriving in her adopted city, she zigzagged across the Midwest and interned with state legislators, lobbyists, and Optum Labs of UnitedHealth Group. Jodi received her Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Minnesota and Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. She is passionate about health policy and is excited to join DCFPI!

Welcome Jodi!

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

Approved DC Budget Makes Important New Investments But Also Leaves Some Large Gaps

May 20th, 2016 | by DCFPI Staff

With the first vote on the DC budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017 on Tuesday, the staff of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute have returned to more mundane things, like sleeping and watering our plants. We pour our hearts and analytic skills into DC budget season every year because we know that budget decisions can make an important difference in the lives of DC residents, especially low-income residents.

The FY 2017 budget reflects a collaboration between Mayor Bowser and the DC Council and includes a number of important investments in education, housing and homeless services, nutrition, and more. There also are a number of very large gaps that remain with the adopted budget, including the need to develop a permanent TANF time limit policy to protect vulnerable families and ensure parents have enough resources to meet their children’s basic needs, and chronic homelessness which will continue to be a major problem facing the city.

The highlights of the final budget include the following:

Education & Early Education

  • Increased funding for DCPS and Public Charter Schools: The budget includes a 2 percent increase in per-pupil funding for both sectors, after getting no increase for the current school year.
  • Early Care and Education: The budget includes $1.8 million to increase payments to child care providers serving low-income families, which will start to address the very low payments that make it hard to provide quality care. Another $1.8 million will go to improve other supports to parents and early education providers.
  • Early Intervention: The budget provides funds to serve a growing number of infants and toddlers identified as having developmental delays. But the budget does not fund a recently adopted policy to expand services and intercede even earlier, before delays get severe.
  • Healthy Tots: The budget adds $1 million to this program, which helps early childhood centers provide nutritious meals and snacks, use locally grown food, and strengthens standards for physical activity at these centers.

Affordable Housing

  • Housing Production Trust Fund: $100 million will support the renovation or construction of roughly 1,000 affordable homes.
  • Public Housing: $15 million will go to repair public housing units, which have suffered from years of federal under-funding.
  • First-time Homebuyer Assistance: The budget adds $5 million to increase the amount of down payment assistance available to lower-income first-time homebuyers, from $54,000 to $80,000, and to serve more households.
  • Rental Assistance: $423,000 will provide rental subsidies to approximately 20 elderly returning citizens.
  • Tenant Purchase Program: The budget adds $544,000 for a new program that will provide seed money to tenant associations seeking to buy their building. Tenant associations would use to funds to pay for legal and technical reports required to exercise their tenant opportunity to purchase (TOPA) rights and to apply for assistance from the city under the First Right Purchase Program.

Homeless Services

  • New Shelters for Families: The budget includes $105 million to replace the dilapidated DC General Family Shelter and one of the District’s apartment-style shelters. The shelters will be replaced with seven smaller shelters spread across the city.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing for Single Adults: The budget adds $6.6 million to help 425 chronically homeless adults get into Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), but no new funds for families with children. PSH provides housing and intensive support services to homeless residents who face significant challenges, like chronic physical or mental health issues. The FY 2017 budget still leaves a need for PSH for 230 families. The budget also leaves a need for 655 single adults, which means that chronic homelessness will continue to be a challenge for years to come.
  • Targeted Affordable Housing: The budget adds $5.6 million to help 141 single adults and 205 families. This program helps residents who either need help paying rent after their short-term Rapid Re-Housing subsidy ends, or who are in PSH and no longer need intensive services but still need help paying rent.
  • Rapid Re-Housing: The budget adds $1.8 million to add 284 family Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) slots for families, but no new assistance for individuals who are homeless.RRH provides housing search assistance, supportive services, and short-term rental assistance, generally up to 12 months. The budget leaves a gap of about 2,000 RRH slots for singles.
  • Homelessness Prevention: The budget adds $1 million to a recently implemented program that has shown early success at helping families avoid the need to enter shelter. New funding will serve about 400 families.
  • Rental Assistance Pilot Program: The budget allocates $1 million for a new program to help formerly homeless residents who are working fill the gap between their income and their rent. The program will be specifically designed to meet the needs of residents with uneven income over the year, like those who do day labor.
  • Homeless Youth: The budget adds $2.3 million in services for unaccompanied homeless youth, including prevention, family reunification, crisis beds, transitional housing, and independent living programs.

Supports for Working DC Residents

  • Increases to Unemployment Insurance Benefits:The maximum weekly UI benefit will rise from $359 to $425, the first increase in 11 years. This and other provisions will help boost UI benefits for some of the lowest wage and most vulnerable workers.
  • Enforcement of Workers’ Rights: The budget adds one staff member to the Office of Wage Hour to increase education and enforcement of DC’s labor laws. However, it won’t be nearly enough to ensure adequate enforcement of recently passed worker benefits and protections, including increases to the minimum wage, paid sick and safe leave, new penalties for “wage theft” when employers fail to pay workers fully, and protecting workers from discrimination.

Health and Nutrition

  • Produce Plus: The budget adds $950,000 to expand the Produce Plus program, which helps low-income residents buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets.
  • Healthy Tots: The budget adds $1 million to the Healthy Tots program, which helps early childhood centers provide nutritious meals and snacks, use locally grown food, and strengthens standards for physical activity at these centers.
  • Other Nutrition Supports: The budget adds $380,000 to further expand Joyful Markets, to support pop-up food markets in all public elementary schools in Ward 7 and Ward 8. It also adds $250,000 for a program that helps corner stores sell fresh produce.

Assistance for Residents with Disabilities

  • Interim Disability Assistance: The budget removes $1 million from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Payback Fund, a dedicated fund for the Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) program, which supports low-income residents with disabilities. IDA provides temporary cash benefits to individuals who have applied for federal SSI disability benefits and are awaiting an eligibility determination. When an individual is approved for SSI, the federal government reimburses the District for the IDA benefit the individual received. These reimbursement dollars are put into the SSI Payback Fund so the District can provide benefits for future IDA applicants. The $1 million reduction translates to roughly 300 residents with disabilities who will be unable to get IDA assistance in 2017. The budget allocates $500,000 from the SSI Payback Fund to fund the SSI application system. The SSI application is incredibly complicated and applicants are more successful if they receive assistance with their applications.

Domestic Violence

  • In the Department of Human Services (DHS) budget, the budget increased funding for domestic violence housing and services by $719,000 in recurring local funds to help replace funds lost when the Freddie Mac Foundation closed.
  • The Crime Victim’s Assistance Fund (VAF), a special fund administered by the Office of Victim Services that consists of fees and other transfers from the Court will be maintained in FY 2017. The proposed budget removed $2.6 million transfer from the VAF, but the Council restored these funds.

Adopted Budget Leaves Some Major Gaps

While the FY 2017 budget will make significant progress, it also leaves significant gaps in critical services for low-income residents.

  • Chronic Homelessness Will Remain: The budget does not fund enough housing to meet the goal of ending chronic homelessness in 2017.
  • Families on TANF Will Remain in Limbo: The budget maintains assistance to 6,200 families who have received assistance for more than 60 months – avoiding a cliff. But they will be left at reduced benefits of about $150 a month, which will be a challenge, especially for the two-thirds of TANF families who do not receive housing assistance. The budget did not make any reforms to provide extensions – and higher benefits – to families who need more time to succeed, such as families who are experiencing homelessness or doing what is expected of them but are still unable to find a job.
  • No Progress to Reduce DC’s Long Housing Wait List: The budget provides no new rental vouchers to help households pay the rent at private market apartments. This means the District will not be able move some of the 41,000 families on the DC Housing Authority waiting list into affordable homes.
  • No Change to Rules that Restrict Access to Health Care for Immigrants: The Healthcare Alliance provides health insurance coverage to low-income residents who are not eligible for Medicaid, including immigrants who are ineligible for Medicaid under federal law. Program rules adopted in 2012 have made it hard for eligible residents to maintain their health coverage, leading to a large drop in participation. Despite clear indications of this problem, the FY 2017 budget takes no steps to improve access to the Alliance.
  • Child Care Remains Underfunded: A recent report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and DC Appleseed cites the need for at least $38 million more to help providers cover the costs of providing quality early care and education. The FY 2017 budget addresses only a small portion of the gap.
  • No Transportation Subsidies for Adult Learners: With the cost of transportation consistently being cited as a huge barrier for adult learners to complete their educational programs, we are disappointed that nothing was done to assist these students in the cost of attending school.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

Guest Blog: Rigid TANF Time Limit Doesn’t Take Into Account the Barriers Families Face

May 13th, 2016 | by LIFT-DC Staff, Guest Bloggers

The District’s rigid Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) time limit prevents hard-working DC residents who have faced obstacle after obstacle on their journey towards economic stability – such as Adissa Peters – from receiving a livable income to sustain themselves and their families. A rigid time limit doesn’t take into account the realities of the systematic barriers that make it so hard for low-income District residents to make it out of poverty.

Adissa became pregnant when she was in the 11th grade. Determined to finish high school, she started receiving TANF so she could achieve her goal. This required a hectic schedule of attending school, dropping her son off at daycare and then going to the job-training classes required from her TANF vendor. After Adissa graduated from high school, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. Not being able to afford a full-time nurse, Adissa had to forego finding a job to take care of her mother, TANF is a lifelinewhich prevented her from being able to receive a full-time job.

While she supported her mother, the $365 a month Adissa received from TANF was essential to having Adissa and her son simply get by.

Adissa dutifully attended the classes from her vendor and had goals of working as a Dental Assistant or in Food Service. Adissa also sought out other social service agencies to help her find employment, sometimes going to the non-profits LIFT-DC and STRIVE to create a resume, conduct mock-interviews and learn proper office etiquette. She also continuously tried to tap into her network to find jobs where she could.

Yet TANF is not providing Adissa and her son the support she needs. She used up 36 months of her 60-month time limit finishing high school and taking care of her mother who had brain cancer. After her mother passed, she found a full-time job but not make enough to live on, and used up her remaining time-limited months of TANF. Now that she has received TANF for more than 60 months, she only qualifies for a potential $122 in TANF benefits, yet she earns too much from her modest job to receive this. Addisa and her son now get no TANF assistance.

This occurred while Adissa was simultaneously struggling with depression and domestic violence which eventually led to the imprisonment of the father of her child. If Adissa’s’ life situation were taken into account and her benefits were extended, she would have the time and baseline stability needed care for herself and her son while to preparing for a career and building her savings towards long-term independence from TANF.

The Department of Human Services has made progress in improving TANF services, such as increased access to case management, but the process is not complete and it is very recent. As Adissa’s example illustrates, many TANF recipients have not gotten the proper support they need to address significant barriers and become financially independent – and yet they still have to suffer the consequences of the time limit.

DC can do so much more to address poverty in our communities, and it starts with extending TANF’s critical services and full benefits to families like Adissa’s. We urge the Council take action this budget season to implement critical time limit extensions. Adissa and so many other families need help now.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

Council Should Act Now to Protect Vulnerable Families with Children

May 12th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

The DC Council should add funding to the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget to begin reforming DC’s rigid TANF time limit to ensure that at least some families receive full benefits. The Council has discussed TANF a great deal and could start with extensions that have broad support. This would bring us closer to full policy that can be adopted over the coming year.TANF is a lifeline

The proposed FY 2017 budget extends benefits and employment assistance for one year to 6,200 families who otherwise faced the loss of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits and services in October 2016. While this protects families from being cut off for one year, it does not make any progress to reform policies that already have left families with incredibly low benefits. It also does not fix a rigid time limit policy that puts vulnerable families in dire circumstances at risk of losing all assistance.

Under the proposed budget, families who have received assistance for 60 months or more will receive just $154 a month for a family of three in FY 2017. This reflects benefit cuts due to time limits that have been implemented since 2011. Given that most TANF families do not receive housing assistance, this is far too low for families to make ends meet.

And under the proposed budget, all families who have received assistance for more than 60 months will lose both cash assistance and employment services in October 2017, regardless of their circumstances, with no opportunity to receive assistance again.

Getting the TANF time limit right – modifying it to ensure that it provides stability to families and children who need it the most – is important to child well-being and to the success of other mayoral initiatives, such as ending homelessness. Nearly 300 families in DC’s Rapid Re-Housing program, which helps families exit shelter, have received TANF for 52 months or more, putting them at risk of going over the cliff. Losing their entire income source would make it incredibly hard to successfully exit homelessness.

Legislation to reform DC’s TANF time limit was introduced in the DC Council in 2015. While that bill, the Public Assistance Amendment Act of 2015, has not been adopted, it could form the basis for time limit reforms. The bill would create extensions to give families access to TANF’s help when they face difficult situations – such as domestic violence – even if they have reached the time limit, with extension eligibility reviewed periodically. The legislation also would continue assistance to children when a family reaches a time limit without qualifying for an extension, to ensure that a time limit focuses on parents but does not hurt children.

DCFPI urges the Council to add funding for extensions that have broad support, like the extension for families who are doing everything they can but cannot find a job, to the FY 2017 budget. This will ensure that some vulnerable families will be restored to full benefits this year and will put the District on a path to adopt a comprehensive TANF policy that protects all vulnerable children.

For more information on this issue, see: www.TANFisalifeline.org.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post
Next Page »