The Districts Dime

Guest Blog: Cutting TANF Would Harm Domestic Violence Survivors

May 22nd, 2015 | by Tamaso Johnson, Policy Attorney at DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

When a mother loses her job because of domestic violence, or when she flees an abusive partner who has prevented her from working outside the home or keeping her own money (frequent forms of financial abuse), safety can depend on having access to economic resources. Domestic violence affects individuals and families in the District at every socioeconomic level, from all wards and walks of life, but low-income parents are especially vulnerable to the impact of abuse. For victims without financial resources or family to fall back on, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other public benefits provide a financial separation from abuse—and a bridge to independence.
TANF graphic

Because of the importance TANF can have for survivors of abuse, domestic violence advocates supported creating TANF time limit exemptions that ‘stop-the-clock’ for domestic violence survivors who have not hit the 60-month time limit. This was passed in 2012 and became accessible to survivors in late 2014 when funding was included in the budget. The exemption recognizes the safety and economic challenges faced by survivors and is a national best practice.

But that is not enough to make the District a safe place and help empower survivors. Victims of abuse could still reach the 60-month time limit if the abuse occurred before the stop-the-clock exemption went into effect. And if abuse occurs after a family has been cut off due to time limits, the District offers no way for a family to get back on temporarily. Domestic violence survivors who reach the time limit more frequently return to abusive partners than other survivors in a time of desperate financial need. [1] 

More than 6,000 District families face elimination of TANF benefits this October unless the Council supports the mayor’s proposal to delay these harmful cuts for one year. Among these families are survivors of domestic violence who would be eligible for a time limit extension in most other states, which recognize that some families need more time to move to self-sufficiency.

Delaying the benefit cut for one year will give the Department of Human Services time to improve services and develop a time limit extension policy that ensures particularly vulnerable families, including domestic violence survivors, have the extra time they need to move to self-sufficiency.

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[1] Scott E., London A., and N. Myers. 2002. “Dangerous Dependencies: The Intersection of Welfare Reform and Domestic Violence.” Gender and Society 16: 876-898 at 882.

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Most DC Residents Support Modest Sales Tax Increase To Fund Important Services, Poll Shows

May 21st, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

5.21.15 sales tax poll tableSeventy percent of District residents are in favor of Mayor Bowser’s proposal to raise the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6 percent, as part of an effort to address a $200 million budget shortfall and pay for services like schools, housing, and homeless services. This is a key finding of a poll conducted on May 18 and 19 by Public Policy Polling for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

The poll also finds that most residents want the DC Council to invest more in services, rather than roll back the sales tax increase, when the Council votes on the budget on May 27.

The proposal would put DC’s sales tax rate in line with Maryland and Northern Virginia, and was recommended last year by the DC Tax Revision Commission. It would add 25 cents to every $100 of purchases made by residents, commuters, and visitors. 

By a 62%-to-28% margin, residents want the Council to devote any money it identifies to services such as affordable housing, rather than rolling back the modest sales tax increase.

The poll reveals strong support for the sales tax increase across all wards, among both White and African-American residents and all age groups

Last week, the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue recommended repealing the sales tax increase, and a repeal proposal may come before the full Council during the May 27 vote. Yet the poll shows that this would be contrary to the wishes of most residents. 

The results are clear: DC residents understand that building a city where everyone can succeed requires new commitments to housing, schools and other needs. And they support raising revenues to meet those goals. In this case, DC residents would rather see investments in affordable housing and schools than save 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

The poll results are here. The poll of 674 registered DC voters has a 4 percent margin of error.

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Guest Blog: Cutting TANF Would Harm DC’s Kids

May 20th, 2015 | by Kimberly Waller, Policy Attorney at Children's Law Center

All too often, the policy conversation surrounding TANF – the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that provides temporary cash assistance, job training and other services for struggling families – focuses on adults. But here in DC, there are 13,000 children from over 6,000 families who are poised to lose this critical safety net on October 1, 2015 due to existing time limits on the program if the Council does not support the mayor’s proposal to extend TANF benefits for one year.
TANF graphic

Given this horizon, it’s an important time to step back and understand the population that TANF helps most in our community: our vulnerable children.

Today, one in four DC children live in poverty – that’s less than $24,000 a year for a family of four – and in our poorest neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, the figure is closer to one in two. The meager cash benefits that TANF provides is often the only reason a child may have food for dinner and heat in the winter.

It’s no secret that the District is struggling to provide affordable housing and good paying jobs that offer pathways to the middle class for low-income families. Cutting children off of TANF support even as DC struggles to transition their parents to work will lead to devastating consequences. These children are already living in poverty and, for many, TANF payments are their family’s means of meeting their most basic needs, including housing and clothing.

Further, we don’t have to guess about how the loss of TANF will impact DC’s kids. The experiences of families in other jurisdictions tell us that cuts in TANF benefits have resulted in increased hunger and poor health outcomes among children.[i] Additionally, children in families who have lost TANF support do worse in a number of developmental areas and score lower on tests of quantitative and reading skills, resulting in long-ranging effects on these children’s ability to finish school and find meaningful work as adults.[ii]

While the direct impact on a child’s future well-being can be devastating, what is equally alarming is the link shown between cuts to TANF and child abuse and neglect.

There are many factors that contribute to child neglect. However, every year in the District, hundreds of children come into contact with the child welfare system because of the instability that results when their parents do not have adequate housing. If thousands of parents lose benefits and are unable to pay their rent, it seems likely that many of these families will become homeless, tearing apart the fragile stability in their children’s lives. And in fact, studies in multiple states have shown that TANF cuts correspond to increased housing instability and increased contact with the child welfare system.[iii]

If we are to use other states as a guide, if the TANF cut-off takes effect without transitioning these families to jobs and other support, our child welfare system, homeless services and other human services functions must be prepared to absorb a significant increase in demand. Many of these families will face an increased risk of instability and others will immediately fall into crisis.  Unfortunately, none of our health and human services agencies are currently in a position to absorb a sudden spike in families.

The bottom line: eliminating TANF payments to families is the wrong thing to do. It will hurt children and will strain our social safety net.

All too often, the Children’s Law Center sees the impact that poverty can have on our most vulnerable youth. We believe it’s time that the District steps up to provide the necessary safety net to prevent children from falling into crisis. It is for this reason that Children’s Law Center urges the Council to support the mayor’s proposal to extend the time limit for one year for our struggling families while the Department of Human Services expands access to employment services and develops new service options, such as closely linking employment and mental health services.

 If you want to print today’s blog, click here.




[i] The Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program, The Impact of Welfare Sanctions on the Health of Infants and Toddlers (2002) available at: http://www.childrenshealthwatch.org/upload/resource/welfare_7_02.pdf.

[ii] Review of Research on TANF Sanctions, Report to Washington State WorkFirst SubCabinet, available at: http://www.docin.com/p-93913888.html.

[iii] Linda Burnam, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Welfare Reform, Family Hardship, and Women of Color (2001). See, also, Sandra Butler, TANF Time Limits and Maine Families: Consequences of Withdrawing the Safety Net (2013), available at: http://www.mejp.org/sites/default/files/TANF-Study-SButler-Feb2013.pdf.

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Council Added Funds to Important Services for DC Residents During Budget Mark-ups

May 19th, 2015 | by DCFPI Staff

Last week’s DC Council committee “mark-ups” resulted in increased funding for programs that will help residents make ends meet and that will support the healthy development of children, including housing, afterschool programs, and health and nutrition for young children. 

Source: archive.constantcontact.com

Source: archive.constantcontact.com

During mark-ups, each Council committee gets a chance to change the proposed funding for agencies and programs they oversee. But any increase in funding has to be paid for by cutting other programs or otherwise finding savings or untapped revenue sources.

The committee mark-ups are an important part of the budget process, but not the end! The mark-up results are sent to the Council for consideration at its vote on the full budget, which will take place on May 27th. Further changes to the budget could occur at that point. 

Below is a summary of some of the major committee changes that affect low- and moderate-income residents.

Health and Human Services

  •  Funding was also identified to restore nearly $2 million for grants to afterschool and summer programs for youth through the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation.
  •  The Council identified $500,000 to provide emergency shelter and family reunification services to parenting/pregnant teens under the age of 18. It also provided $100,000 to add a staff position to the Interagency Council on Homelessness to implement its new Strategic Plan to end long-term homelessness. The ICH currently has just one full-time staff member despite its critical role.
  •  The Council committed $1.3 million for teen pregnancy prevention and $500,000 to provide housing for people with AIDS.

  Housing and Community Development

  •  The Council added $650,000 to provide long-term housing for formerly homeless individuals. This will help about 50 people through a new program called Targeted Affordable Housing. An additional $1.65 million is needed to fully fund this part of the Strategic Plan to end long-term homelessness.
  •  An additional $450,000 was allocated to the Office of the Tenant Advocate for two new staff positions. They will work to prevent illegal construction projects and to better enforce tenant protection laws.

 Education

  •  $3.3 million to restore the Healthy Tots program that was eliminated in the mayor’s budget. This program helps early childhood centers provide more nutritious meals and snacks, use locally grown food, and strengthens standards for physical activity at these centers.
  •  $694,000 to restore cuts to some school budgets within DC Public Schools.
  •  $266,000 to expand the Community Schools program to an additional site and to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
  •  $1.6 million for an early literacy grant program focused on reading intervention services between pre-kindergarten and the third grade.
  •  $451,000 to the DC Public Library to fund the Books from Birth Act.
  •  $900,000 to support DC Public Library collections.
  •  $2 million to increase the allotment public charter schools receive for their facilities.
  •  The Education Committee added a requirement that the Public Charter School Board submit an annual report on how “at-risk” funds are used by individual charter schools.

Workforce Development

  • The Council provided $500,000 to establish a Career Pathways Innovation Fund, to begin testing and expanding new models to blend adult literacy and occupational training. The Council added $1.5 million for FY 2017 and subsequent years to design, pilot, and to implement effective programs that create adult career pathways and to improve the performance of adult education and training programs.

Legal and Domestic Violence Services

  •  The Council provided an additional $1,000,000 to the Access to Justice Initiative which provides civil legal services (such as housing) for underserved communities.
  •  The Council  restored $133,000 to the District’s Domestic Violence Hotline and added funding to the Office of Victim Services for grants to support victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide, child abuse, assault, and neglect. The Council also directed $719,000 to expand emergency shelter and crisis intervention services to victims of domestic violence.

Stay tuned for more budget updates in the District’s Dime!

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

 

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Medicaid Can Help Build a More Robust Permanent Supportive Housing Program In DC

May 15th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

As the District seeks additional money to combat chronic homelessness, one of the best places to look is actually Medicaid, the federal health care program. That’s because better care for homeless residents with serious health conditions can help them better manage their care, which, in turn, helps keep them off the streets. Using federal Medicaid funds could help end homelessness and provide DC with long-term savings – a huge win-win. DC has begun the process but must invest more resources into technical assistance and coming up with a comprehensive plan moving forward.

There is lots of evidence that the permanent supportive housing (PSH) model – which places homeless residents with chronic conditions into housing and then provides services to address those conditions – not only improves the health of participants, but also improves the fiscal health of the community at large. Bringing services into someone’s home means that they are more likely to maintain their care, including getting to the doctor and keeping up with prescriptions. This means residents are more likely to stay healthy and housed and are less likely to go to the emergency room, and this lowers costs for both homeless services and health services.

The District is looking to expand PSH to combat chronic homelessness. Using Medicaid to support the substantial new investment needed makes a lot of sense, especially since the federal government covers 70 percent of DC’s Medicaid costs. But there are other reasons, too.

• Many of those who are chronically homeless are also eligible for DC Medicaid.
• The Affordable Care Act allows Medicaid to pay for new and innovative approaches that help residents get easier access to health services and better coordinated care.
• The health companies that provide Medicaid to 175,000 District residents had millions in unnecessary health costs last year, related to uncoordinated care, avoidable hospital visits, and emergency room use for non-emergencies. PSH could reduce those costs.

The District is making progress in seeing how services under Medicaid and in Permanent Supportive Housing could overlap, but more can be done. Medicaid already covers up to 85 percent of services in Permanent Supportive Housing for people with a severe mental illness. Starting this year, substance abuse is also covered under Medicaid and should have many of the same benefits.

The biggest remaining gap is for people with chronic physical health conditions who have unstable housing situations. Several state Medicaid programs are finding ways to target these populations and use PSH to improve their health and housing. For example, the Minnesota Medicaid program is working with homeless service organizations to provide case management in a PSH setting. Massachusetts is providing incentives for its Medicaid managed care companies to pay for community health workers and home visitors to deliver services in PSH. Both of these programs keep people housed, improve health, and lower health care costs over time – goals shared by DC.

PSH can make a real dent in chronic homelessness, but it needs sustainable funding to do so. Medicaid funding could provide that needed investment to keep people healthy and off the streets. But to get to implement models like in Massachusetts or Minnesota, DC needs to start investing in technical assistance and capacity building for government agencies like the Department of Health Care Finance (Medicaid) and the Interagency Council on Homelessness. This money can help with the planning and training of PSH providers who may not be familiar with Medicaid.

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