The Districts Dime

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.

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[i] The Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program, The Impact of Welfare Sanctions on the Health of Infants and Toddlers (2002) available at:

[ii] Review of Research on TANF Sanctions, Report to Washington State WorkFirst SubCabinet, available at:

[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:

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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. 



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.


  •  $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!

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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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Small Investment Can Help Homeless Teen Parents Stay in School

May 13th, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

By making a modest investment in shelter beds and family reunification services, the DC Council can bring stability to homeless teens who are pregnant or parenting. These teens fall through the cracks of DC’s homeless services, not qualifying for the kinds of help families with adult parents get. Establishing new services for teens can help them stay in school and put their families on the path to a stable future.homeless services graphic

Currently, parents under the age of 18 cannot receive help in the adult family homeless system because they need more intensive supervision and support services, like counseling. As a result, parenting teens often have to couch surf until they turn 18 and qualify for adult shelter, meaning they move in with a different friend or family member every few days. This makes it difficult for parents to consistently get to school and can lead them to drop out.

With an investment of $500,000 the District can provide 8-10 shelter beds and family reunification services for these teens. Most become homeless due to conflicts with their own parents. Shelter beds will offer a safe place for teens while they receive help from trained counselors to resolve the conflict. And for teens who can’t return to their families, the shelter will give them a safe place to stay until a bed opens up in a youth housing program.

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

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Council Should Keep Modest Sales Tax Increase For Investments that Help DC Residents

May 12th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

If it comes to choosing between a proposed sales tax increase that amounts to pennies per purchase or supporting important services, the DC Council’s priority should be to protect the services.

Money from the sales tax increase to 6 percent from today’s 5.75 percent, proposed in Mayor Bowser’s budget, can help support child nutrition, after-school programs, rental assistance, and other important purposes.  

The proposal would put the District’s sales tax rate in line with Maryland and Virginia and add just 25 cents to a $100 purchase. The new revenues are needed in a year when the city faces a major gap between what it expects to take in and the cost to maintain services. And they will help support important new commitments to affordable housing and family economic security, among others.  

5.12.15 keep the sales taxThe sales tax increase is modest in its impact on residents.  And even with the tax increase, the proposed District budget is lean. 

  • Even for DC’s poorest families, the tax increase would be small – just $20 a year for a household making $20,000 according to the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy. And many of these households are getting tax cuts adopted by the DC Council last year, and these tax cuts more than offset the sales tax increase. 
  • The $36 million in revenue increases in the budget for the next fiscal year budget is lower than in five of the past six years. Even with the new revenue, total spending next year will be less than the amount needed to maintain this year’s services, according to DC’s Chief Financial Officer.  

Nevertheless, some Councilmembers, including Chairman Mendelson, have expressed interest in undoing the sales tax increase. This would require identifying $22 million in cuts to services or finding other untapped funds.   

At a time when so many are struggling to make ends meet, it makes more sense to strengthen services that help District residents improve their lives and build toward a more secure future. 

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute testified in favor of the sales tax increase at a hearing last Friday.  You can read it here.

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