DC Can’t Move Families To Work Without FY 2013 Funding
Moving families from public assistance to self-sufficiency involves several interlocking factors: thorough assessments of the barriers to work, skills training, job coaching, and the resources to support these adequately. The District has made major improvements in the first three categories, but it all might come to a halt if Mayor Gray and the DC Council do not ensure the fourth: that money is available to continue helping eligible parents get back to work in the upcoming year.
Funding for these improvements was not included within the budget for fiscal year 2013, but instead was placed on the top of a budget wish list formally known as the Revenue Estimate Contingency Priority List. Items from the wish list will get funded only if the city’s revenue projections improve. Yet 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 concerns are ongoing, which means it is likely that the revenue projections in September and December also will fail to provide additional funding to help these families who need assistance.
What will happen without additional funding? Millions of dollars will not be available to help parents who want to do better for themselves and their kids. In addition, over 6,000 families, many facing significant hardships, will have their benefits cut in October.
This is especially disappointing because the District just embarked this year on a new effort to improve welfare-to-work services. As regular District’s Dime readers know, DC is in the process of implementing improved, targeted employment services for TANF parents. The results of this approach have been very promising, with parents in the pilot program increasing work participation ten-fold. But not unexpectedly, it takes time to implement these changes. Without funding for the employment program or to delay benefit cuts, thousands of families face a reduction in benefits before they even have a chance to access these improved services. The Council agreed that families should not be punished for implementation delays and pushed to postpone this cut by one year — expecting that growing revenues would address this need.
The Council also voted 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 caring for a family member with a disability. Prior to this change, DC exempted these parents from work activity requirements during affected months, with the understanding that they would access services to deal with these issues. But unlike 36 other states, DC counted these months towards a family’s time limit, meaning that parents dealing with the biggest issues had little time remaining to prepare for and train for work. The Council agreed that these families should receive full benefits and a time limit break to give them sufficient time to access job services.
It is not a recipe for success to improve services but not fund them. Mayor Gray and the DC Council should continue the progress in our TANF employment program by identifying funding for this important work in the upcoming year. If the wish list will not work, it is time to develop a Plan B.