The Districts Dime

Reform the TANF Time Limit to Help Families with Children Succeed

November 20th, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

The goal of DC’s welfare program – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) – should be to improve the economic stability and mobility of families with children, knowing that this is critical to the healthy development of children. Yet without action by the mayor and the DC Council, more than 6,000 vulnerable families with 13,000 children will be cut off of TANF next October, with the chance that most will not find stable employment to replace the lost assistance. DCFPI testified before the DC Council this week about the need to reform DC’s TANF program to be more geared toward promoting family success, rather than relying on a rigid time limit that could push many children deeper into poverty, threatening their chances of success.

Many parents who have received TANF for more than 60 months, like similar families across the country, struggle with barriers that make it very difficult for them to work TANF clip artor face challenges finding good jobs in an economy with still-high unemployment for non-college educated workers. Families reaching time limits are far more likely than other TANF recipients to face serious barriers to working or finding a job, such as physical and mental health problems, low cognitive functioning, and low levels of education. The DC Department of Human Services has acknowledged that many TANF recipients “have unexposed or undiagnosed barriers that may prohibit them from engaging in services.” Yet DC’s time limit fails to recognize the complex lives of many poor families. Forty-four states recognize that some families need more time after they reach 60 months to move to self-sufficiency. But DC’s rigid time limit has no exceptions.

A time limit that is responsive to family circumstances is important to ensuring that TANF helps families take steps toward greater independence, rather than pushing children into deep poverty. Families cut off TANF often are not able to replace lost benefits with employment income, research on state welfare time limits finds, leading to chaotic or unstable lives. Not surprisingly, poverty harms children in ways that make it harder to succeed in school and in later life.

And a loss of benefits also would greatly diminish a family’s ability to make progress toward employment or toward addressing other barriers to financial stability. Parents would not be able to focus on the activities that could help them because they would be struggling each day just to meet their family’s most basic needs. It would be difficult for parents to even pay for the bus fare to get to these activities.

As the District moves forward to review and adjust its TANF time limit, we as a city should adopt the goal that the new time limit should help families succeed without pushing any more children into deep poverty. That will create a brighter future for our children and for the District as a whole.

You can find DCFPI’s full testimony here.

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Better Pay for Child Care Professionals Will Mean Higher-Quality Care for Kids

November 17th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat


Child care providers serving low- and moderate-income DC families often do not have the resources needed to support a strong and stable workforce. That makes it hard to provide the kind of care that helps young children start their education off on the right foot.  And it makes it hard for working parents to find a nearby child care center where they can leave their children with confidence.

Improving resources for DC’s child care subsidy program can help address this problem.mother and baby 1.2

That is one of the early findings of research DCFPI is conducting with DC Appleseed to examine the cost of providing quality child care for infants and toddlers in the District, based on interviews with child care providers serving families in DC’s child care subsidy program. While findings and recommendations will not be released until early 2016, we shared a few initial trends at a DC Council hearing on early care and early learning held on Saturday:

Compensation and Benefits for Child Care Professionals: Many providers reported paying extremely low wages and offering no employee benefits – such as health care or retirement plans.  This stems largely from low per-child reimbursements in DC’s child care subsidy program, amidst other pressures to maintain quality programs. When asked what types of investments they would make if they received a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in program income, the majority said they would offer better compensation and benefits for their staff.

Capacity to Serve Children with Disabilities: Many child care centers and homes need additional services to identify and address developmental delays or disabilities and ensure that families are aware of the supports available to them. Child care providers play an important role here, but they get no additional resources from the District to fulfill it. Several providers spoke favorably about DC’s Healthy Futures program, which provides mental health consultation to staff to promote children’s positive social emotional development and reduce behavioral problems. These types of consultants can connect families with early intervention services or help them navigate the special education system. We hope to see more of these types of programs accessible to community-based providers.

Alignment of the District’s Early Childhood Programs: The needs of young children are complex – including health care, nutrition, cognitive and social development – and DC families with young children often interact with several different public services to get their needs met. In a 2012 scan of early childhood programs and services in the District, DCFPI identified about 30 programs across six agencies that serve young children (age 0-5) and their families. The city should continue to work on ways to deliver these services in a coordinated way to help ease the burden on families and streamline access to multiple programs at once.

You can find DCFPI’s full testimony here.

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Ensuring that Everyone Benefits from Economic Development East of the Anacostia River

November 10th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

When hundreds of people gathered last Thursday for a conference on “Equitable Economic Development East of the River,” organized by City First Foundation, DCFPI shared statistics that remind us of how different life is for residents living there.

Child Poverty Rate 2014 Chart

  • One in four children east of the Anacostia River lives in extreme poverty: That means living on less than $10,000 for a family of three. In the rest of the city, just one in 20 children is in a family with income this low.
  • Incomes are falling east of the river: The typical household living east of the Anacostia River has seen its income fall 10 percent since 2007 – to just $32,000. Meanwhile, in the city as a whole, typical household income rose $10,000 during this period, or 16 percent after adjusting for inflation.

We probably all have some vision of what equitable economic development looks like: communities with improving housing conditions and vibrant commercial corridors – where existing residents are able to enjoy the progress. We probably also have some vision of what inequitable economic development looks like: the same kind of housing and retail changes sweeping through a community, but where benefits are left behind by rising costs that prevent them from benefitting.

The challenges facing residents living east of the river are severe but not unique. Many of the strategies to promote equitable development in Ward 7 and Ward 8 will need to address these city-wide problems.

  • Housing costs are rising, but incomes are not: Over the past decade, housing costs have risen across the board, from the person looking for a low-cost basement apartment to the person seeking a luxury home. But for the bottom 40 percent of DC households, incomes have not budged, leaving families struggling with the added expenses.
  • Wages are falling for residents without a college degree: The typical DC resident with a high school degree earned just $13 an hour in 2014, a decline of almost $2 since 1980, after adjusting for inflation. Residents without a high school degree also have seen wages fall.

These are big challenges with no easy solutions. The City First Foundation conference focused on a variety of needs: housing, jobs, commercial revitalization, and supporting entrepreneurship. There also was a discussion of steps to ensure that the forthcoming 11th Street Bridge Park – which will open opportunities on both sides of the river – leads to economic development that benefits everyone.

The conference sparked a multitude of conversations – during formal sessions and in the hallways – to shape a vision and strategies for ensuring that all DC residents benefit from economic development. We look forward to the next steps from these important conversations.

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On November 13, Join a Conversation on Strengthening Job Training

November 4th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

Lots of DC residents are working hard, but not everyone is getting ahead. Residents without a college degree face falling wages and stubbornly high unemployment. Addressing these disturbing trends is critical to enabling everyone who lives in the District to thrive, as housing and other costs continue to rise. Improving the employment skills of DC residents also is critical to the future health of the DC economy. 2 guys working

That’s why we hope you will join us on November 13 at a summit hosted by DC government and a number of non-profit organizations – including the DC Fiscal Policy Institute – to discuss strategies “to move all District residents towards stable and family-sustaining employment.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Summit, at the R.I.S.E Demonstration Center, will focus on strengthening partnerships among employers, DC government and community-based organizations to create better career pathways for residents. It will highlight opportunities provided by recent federal law, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), to help more residents gain literacy and job skills needed to enter the job market, and to improve training opportunities for working residents interested in career enhancement. The summit also will include discussion of current workforce development efforts by leading DC agencies.

Then, most of the day will be spent in small groups to discuss key ways to strengthen the adult education and job training system in DC, including:

  • Creating stronger partnerships between employers, training providers and others in growing DC industries;
  • Improving coordination of DC’s various education and training programs;
  • Strengthening the city’s main entry point for jobseekers, our American Job Centers; and
  • Setting stronger performance measures and doing more to collect information on outcomes of key programs and training providers.

We look forward to seeing you! Click here to register.

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New Proposal for Family Shelters Adds Bathrooms

November 2nd, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

Mayor Bowser has pledged to increase the number of bathrooms in the city’s new family shelters and to develop a better estimate of the number of homeless families with special needs requiring private bathrooms before completing shelter designs. DCFPI believes this is a reasonable compromise that increases privacy and helps ensure that the District can move forward with replacing the dilapidated DC General Family Shelter.dc general photo

Bathroom designs and options in the new shelters are important for several reasons. Sharing bathrooms can pose safety concerns for families who have experienced trauma. Additionally, some families have disabilities that require a private bathroom.

At the same time, while many families need a private bathroom for these reasons, not all do. Requiring a private bathroom for every room could greatly increase the costs of replacing DC General, could make some of the potential sites for new shelters impractical, and thus could delay the closing DC General. The District has identified a number of potential new shelter sites throughout the city; because they have different dimensions and zoning limitations, capacity and floor plans will vary from site to site.

This means that the District needs to develop standards for the number and kinds of bathrooms in each shelter. The legislation being considered by the DC Council on Tuesday will call for each shelter to have a minimum of one locking family bathroom (with toilet, sink, and shower/tub) for every five families, and a private bathroom for at least 10 percent of new units. In a letter to the Council, Mayor Bowser expressed her intent to exceed these minimum standards by providing one private or family bathroom for every three families across the shelter sites.

In addition, the administration will perform an analysis to estimate the number of families with special needs who require private bathrooms prior to the finalization of design, and it has committed to creating an Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Family Work Group to provide feedback on family shelter redesign. Having this information will allow policymakers and the public to assess whether the proposed plans meet identified needs. If the process reveals that the shelter design does not provide enough bathrooms for families with special needs, the District should find the necessary resources to increase the number of private bathrooms.

The Interagency Council on Homelessness Committee on Design Guidelines for Emergency Housing for Families Experiencing Homelessness concluded that the “overwhelming recommendation was to maximize private bathroom space however possible without delaying closing DC General.” DCFPI believes this new proposal meets this recommendation and looks forward to the long overdue closure of DC General.

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

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