DC Council Rejects Draconian Benefit Cuts for Low-Income Families, But Should Reconsider New Requirements That Make it Harder for Families to Get Assistance

August 7th, 2009 | by Katie Kerstetter

As part of his recent budget gap-closing strategy, Mayor Fenty proposed cutting $6 million from DC’s welfare-to-work program, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF.   One-third of the money, approximately $2 million, would come from reducing benefits to families who do not meet at least half the District’s work requirement in six months.  The proposal also would have given the Mayor the authority for the first time to completely cut off families who did not meet DC’s work requirements.  

As we pointed out during the budget debate, DC should ensure that TANF families are getting the services and training they need to move from welfare to work.  But cutting families’ benefits isn’t the way to do that.  In fact, data from other states has shown that sanctioning families doesn’t lead to increased engagement in work activities.  It just pushes households deeper into poverty.  Last Friday, the DC Council rejected the Mayor’s proposal to increase sanctions for TANF recipients.  The Council deserves credit for protecting families from increased benefit cuts during an economic downturn and for recognizing that major changes to TANF should not be undertaken as part of a two-week budget gap-closing process.    

However, at the same time the Council decided against the Mayor’s sanction proposal, they accepted one that will make it more difficult for families to access TANF benefits.  The new policy would deny TANF benefits to any family that does not complete the program’s orientation and assessment.  Previously, a family would have a portion of its benefits cut if it did not participate in these activities.   

TANF families in DC face many challenges, including domestic violence, low levels of education, and caring for a disabled child or relative.  Under the new policy, these families – and the children in these families – would no longer be eligible for TANF if the parent cannot participate in an orientation.  TANF is the last resort for many families who are trying to get back on their feet.  Making it harder for these families to access the program will only increase costs down the road. 

We hope that the Council will reconsider this policy when it returns for the second vote on the Budget Support Act in September.

2 Responses to “DC Council Rejects Draconian Benefit Cuts for Low-Income Families, But Should Reconsider New Requirements That Make it Harder for Families to Get Assistance”

  1. Kathryn Baer says:

    I too am very concerned about the proposal to make receipt of benefits contingent on completing an orientation. Indeed, I raised this issue in my posting on the Council’s action (http://povertyandpolicy.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/dc-council-blocks-benefit-cutoffs-for-tanf-families).

    However, if the adult in the family genuinely can’t participate in an orientation program, then cutting the families benefits hardly seems appropriate. At the same time, I think the family needs to know what services are available, how they can access them, what their rights and responsibilities are, etc. So if not the usual orientation, what?

  2. One problem is that there isn’t currently a “usual orientation.” Recipients are not given any written or oral information about their options in the program, they are just told to report to a job training vendor for the most basic job readiness and job search assistance.

    The orientation needs to be comprehensive and conducted on-site at IMA service centers the same day people apply for benefits.